Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Making a Place in Space

This comment which came up in a book, has lived with me for a long time and I use it in a sense to evaluate what I am looking at when I visit longbarrows or cromlechs, I expect most people do.
The first thing that one notices at prehistoric sites is their landscape, and the question must always come to mind as to why people settled within a particular area. Their stone monuments are supposedly places of ritual and ceremonial enactions, and much energetic modern intellectual speculation is spent on trying to fathom out the reason why. The answer is of course we don't know, their is no written evidence, so what evidence there is to gather must come from archaeological exploration.
Three very famous longbarrows lie within a 40 kilometre distance of my home, Stoney Littleton, West Kennet Longbarrow and Wayland Smithy. All have distinct features and an incredible presence within their modern landscapes, and I suspect the same could be said that when originally built they would also have an awesome effect on the neolithic people.
Making a space in place is marking a home spot, a territory to return to, a place where the ancestors can rest and be visited; a longbarrow by its very presence will accumulate its ancestral stories and folklores.
The first thing to notice about the later Welsh cromlechs, (and taking them as an example )is there very cave-like appearance, this perhaps gives us an inkling of what a tomb, the resting place of ancestral bones was all about. Originally through the much earlier periods of mesolithic and paleolithic man, cave dwelling was part of their lives. Simplistically put, this ancestral link to caves came down through to the neolithic period, and when the longbarrows were constructed out of very solid natural stones, the appearance would have suggested going into a cave. This can best be explained by the fact that the constructed stone chambers only go back a short distance compared to the very long length of the barrow itself, the back soil and turf (the major part) of the barrow in actual fact represents the hill or cliff in which the chamber/ cave is situated now this of course is only a theory......

Wayland's Smithy long earthen structure outlined by stones;

the front two chambers and facade being the entrance to the 'cave' as in the photograph below.

The above entrance is a 20th century reconstruction, but

the 'before' picture below, probably taken in the 1930s by Massingham, gives a somewhat different view...


Stoney Littleton has a different facade, plain, its entrance stones decorated with fossils and the large ammonite stone on the left, but inside the six chambers are very 'cavelike' , and often this is interpreted as a returning to the 'womb' . This statement needs some explaining, it has been suggested that if neolithic people saw the 'earth' as a living body, a mother form, fertility symbol, then returning the dead to the earth/mother, would in some ways keep them alive or renew them. This was after all a primitive culture, that made offerings of flint, pottery, and food into pits and postholes, one presumes in the hope that the earth/mother would make more of this bounty.

Inside Stoney Littleton barrow

The entrance of Stoney Littleton


West Kennet Longbarrow

Facade and blocking stones of West Kennet when the longbarrow was 'closed down'

Stoney Littleton is also restored, and was in fact 'closed down' by the neolithic people at some stage by erecting the large blocking stones in front of the entrance and filling up the interior with earth and stones.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Frisky bullocks

One of my favourite walks along the Cotswold Way needs a somewhat risky undertaking to both life and limb, not necessarily to me but to Moss my collie. We have to confront about 40 odd bullocks grazing in a very large field of about 50 acres. Not exactly a field more a steep sided small valley with a large wood at the bottom. It has in it the remains of an old trackway that went from the Brockham Roman site in the Langridge parish across the great valley that the A46 traverses in a north south direction, to Charmy Down and Solsbury Hill.
Three weeks ago was our first encounter, Moss had jumped over the great stone stile into the field and immediately flew back again, when I climbed up the steps I could see why, a dozen or more black and brown faces on the other side. Chiding him for being a coward, I took the opposite direction on the trackway hoping to loop round the cattle, of course they followed, charging poor old Moss with me swearing at them, but this detour did lead me to discover a rock strewn stream emerging from the hillside, and we did eventually reach the safety of a gate.
Once more yesterday deciding to take this particular walk, the cattle happily were still far down at the bottom of the hill, but of course these devious creatures were there to meet us on the way back. Fooling them was easy I just walked on the other side of of some barbed wire fence in the 'quarry' field, and they followed and mooed on the other side, I only had to cross a few yards to the stile and Moss just jumped over a stone wall further on. The sad thing was that some of this wall had been knocked down, obviously by people also frightened by the bullocks.
Knocking down stone walls by walkers is hardly going to make the farmer happy, but as this pathway is part of the Cotswold Way some solution should be arrived at so that walkers can get past these creatures without having to scramble under barbed wire or knock down walls.

The view of another small valley along this walk.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Japanese Anemones

In my garden are two great displays of these tall Japanese anemones, far too early for this time of the year as they are supposed to be autumn flowering. There exuberance is extraordinary probably down to the strange weather we have been having this summer. But suddenly I realised that they have a story behind them. A small plant of these flowers was given to me about 25 years ago by a person who lived in Box in Wiltshire, and they have now grown from small beginnings to giants dominating their positions. The garden they came from, had the remains of a large roman villa under its surface. This villa was enlarged in the 3rd or 4th century by a wealthy owner, and apparently has the largest collection of roman mosaics in the country, with mosaics being found in 20 of the 41 rooms in the complex. The villa was excavated by Hurst in 1967, there are probably pottery and mosaics at Devizes museum somewhere in a dusty box.
The people who owned the Georgian house, obviously had a love of roman things, for I remember that Kate had decorated her house with that dark orangey/ochre affect dado, and the rooms all had strong colour washes.
But leaving aside roman villas and returning to anemones, the following is taken from W.Robinson - The English Garden 1895 -

I have a feeling that these steel engraved plates were copied from photos, for they have a precision only seen in a photograph.

He says of these plants that they are useful for borders, groups, fringes of shrubbery in rich soil, and here and there in half shady places for wood walks. Obviously a different era..... apparently the plant was introduced in 1858 so was relatively new when he wrote his book.
Plants were brought back by plant hunters through the 19th century, and my garden is part of a 19th century garden/parkland. In fact traces of the old garden can be found running through the bank at the bottom. A great rockery that spans four gardens (200 feet) can still be faintly seen falling down to the small valley below, which once had a stream running through. The victorian person who made this large garden also was responsible for the Botanical gardens in Victoria Park, so he was also obviously interested in exotic plants from afar.
When we first came to this house, at the bottom were two old Japanese trees, now both dead, one pink,double petalled, and the other single petalled of a deep carmine pink. On the bank, under the large sycamore tree, also grew bamboo, but one year it flowered and then never appeared again. Also in this bank the notorious Japanese knotweed makes an appearance every now and then. This knotweed was introduced during the Victorian era, has creeping underground roots so that it now takes over large patches of ground and is fairly indestructible. It has become a garden escapee and now can be found rampaging along rivers, canals and damp ground.
Luckily it does'nt like the dry conditions that the sycamore tree creates, so it is not a problem, though ground elder is. But before we dismiss ground elder as another tiresome weed, it was also introduced by medieval monks because in the early months of spring it can be eaten like spinach, sorrel or Good King Henry (fat hen).....

Friday, August 24, 2007

Is the Swallowhead a Sacred Spring?

Stukeley "There are two heads of the river Kennet: one from a little north-west of Abury, at Monkton, runs southward to Silbury Hill: this affords little water, except in wet seasons. At Silbury Hill it joins the Swallow Head, or true fountain of the Kennet, which the country people call by the old name Cunnit, and it is not a little famous among them. This is a plentiful spring."

...The actual sources are indeed two.. one which rises in Clyffe Pypard field, some four miles to the north-west, and the other in the parish of Broad Hinton, some four miles to the north east of Abury: at the latter village these two streams unite, and flow in one channel to Swallow Head, the very picturesque basin whose springs are generally very abundant, and largely increase the infant river: indeed there are seasons when the two real sources have been known to be dry, and the only water in the Kennet has come from this spring.

Other seasons have occurred within my memory when this, too, has failed, and the dry bed of the Kennet has been planted with potatoes.

p175 in Rev. A C Smith's 'Guide to the British and Roman Antiquities of the North Wiltshire Downs' (1884). Referenced from TMA - SwallowHead Spring

one which rises in Clyffe Pypard field some four miles to the north-west. This statement by the Rev.Smith is probably wrong as there is no evidence of a stream rising at Clyffe Pypard and joining up with the stream from Broad Hinton...

Swallowhead Spring - a sad spectacle today with modern 'offerings' disintergrating on the stones.

The answer to that question is I don't know, but because the enigmatic Silbury Hill is just a few hundred metres away could there be some relationship between the two. First of all, the Swallowhead is at a junction where two small rivers meet, the Winterbourne as it is today called, coming down past Avebury, curving round Silbury and then apparently, as it takes a left hand swing by the spring it changes it name to the Kennet. The Kennet is seen as a new river, because the Swallowhead is its source. Now this conjunction of two rivers is important, some might see it as a marriage of the waters, but in neolithic thinking maybe this merging,- and who is to tell whether in prehistoric times the spring was much more energetic than it is today - was an important fact.

The Willow tree facing the supposed meeting place of Kennet and Winterbourne, taken from the Swallowhead Spring

Why, well looking further afield, a somewhat similar homage to water can be found in other places. Bath which is only about 30 kilometres away has the hot springs which the romans capitalised on and built a great temple to the presiding celtic Goddess Sulis there. Just outside the city, Bitton has a similar conjunction of rivers, the little river Boyd meeting the river Avon, a large barrow also dominates the scenery here..
Stanton Drew circles also have an avenue down to a river; an argument could be put forth here that the river was a means of transporting people, but it is significant that these three stone circles were put up right next to the river, thereby including the river as part of the sacred landscape. And of course Stonehenge with its Avenue down to the river as a processional way, and the disappeared large Hatfield barrow by the river Avon.
Here we come to the term 'sacred landscape' what does it mean? For me it means the long term habit of prehistoric people recognising the landscape as a living form, and in doing so gave it a subjective personality, its life forms being an integral part of their lives. Bringing their dead to a special place, recognising the bones of the dead were similar to the stones that they so laboriously erected to construct megalithic tombs....
There are other pointers that the Swallowhead could have been seen as sacred in the roman period, now this is strong circumstantial evidence, there was a roman settlement at the foot of Silbury with the roman road from London to Bath running alongside. There were several wells discovered in the 19th century round the base of Silbury, one of them had a great quantity of small stones atop a large half ton stone which seemed to be vertical within the shaft of the well. Underneath these stones was a variety of roman stuff, coins, pottery, bones, antler tines and
roman coins. An odd assemblage, though it could be argued that this stuff was votive, it could also be seen as rubbish thrown down the nearest receptacle.
Roman wells have a history all their own excavated they often reveal the destruction of the roman settlement or villa. Bodies, pottery, animals and altars are all to be found deposited therin, a testimony to the overthrowing of the roman regime by the local population.
So a word of caution has to be introduced when investigating the depths of wells, they can contain all manner of historical vandalism.
None of this votive evidence remains at Swallowhead because obviously it has been swept away over a long period of time., but the tantalising 'cave like' atmosphere that the Romans constructed round the hot springs of Aqua Sulis, tells us that a little more was going on.

For instance having mentioned the Bitton barrow at the junction of two rivers, a church also lies within a hundred yards and a 'heathen temple' or roman shrine is said to lie nearabouts.
The Apollo Temple at Nettleton Shrub, situated by the Roman Fosse Road, is also overlooking a brook, the settlement on the other side of the Fosse. There is also evidence of Dubonnic coins found in the vicinity, which could mean that native iron age people also lived/worshipped at this spot as well, and that is why the Apollo temple was sited here.

Counterbalancing my argument, is of course the question of a long time period, and the relationship of particular religious ideas being carried down through the centuries by different generations, who would of course bring different and innovative ideas. Silbury for instance could be the creation of a single mind bent on domination, on the other hand, imitation of other built large barrows could be the reason for its presence in the landscape. The spring could be seen as an ordinary source of water, its magical aspect only being picked up when the right combination of religious ideas came along. For instance at times through the Bronze Age when offerings were deposited in water or bogs. This particular ritual act would have been found in the later Iron age, when the pagan religion of that time worshipped in natural places. Being picked up at this stage by the roman colonisers, who had a similar religious perception of the world. We can, in other word, circumscribe the argument as having started at one point and finished nicely with water worship at the other end, but can not really lay claim that water, or at least the presence of a sacred spring, was a constant factor through the prehistoric period ......

And the further question must be asked, IF the Swallowhead was a special spring, how then did its relationship with Silbury hill feature in the general overlay of sacred landscape, because if Silbury was also built because of the low-lying water aspect of the site and the river that curves round it, and in a sense was part of a 'flooded' landscape,( similar for instance to Glastonbury Tor overlooking its 'fen' landscape,) it would'nt have been important at all...
Palisaded enclosures date....

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lichen,stone, grass and lavender

A small bunch of lavender flowers left at the barrow, a harmonious colouring

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ebbor Gorge

Take the road to Priddy from the Wells Road, and as you drive through this stonewalled landscape remember that you are entering a truly prehistoric landscape that goes way back into the past. Barrows, swallet holes, Priddy Circles and of course caves and rock shelters.
If you drive into the village of Priddy, stop for a moment and admire the large village green with an old fashioned farm on the other side. Drive up the hill to the church, and there is a barrow sitting in the field next to it. But to find the lane to Ebbor Gorge, you must take the first lane sharply left just as you enter the village, drive past the picnic place on the highest point of the hill, and descend down for a few hundred yards till on the left there is a car park for the Gorge.
The "scramble" walk is well indicated, you descend into the wooded depths of the gorge, high trees, dark green luscious growth and ferns on old fallen trees, patches of open ground gleaming pale in the sunlight, the white perfumed meadowsweet that loves boggy ground is on show. Then the scramble, you enter the narrow defile of the gorge where the shelters are situated, and begin to climb sharply over great natural stone steps with the sheer rock faces on either side, where there is sun the blue flowers of the nettle leaved bellflower cluster at the path's edge and a small stream trickles down the steps, at one point the path becomes so narrow between the rocks that it looks impassable.
The shelters are dark and gloomy places, Victorian grottoes comes to mind, Neolithic and Bronze age finds have been found, perhaps they were more burial place that living quarters. Upwards to the viewpoint over the gorge itself, steep, steep cliff like faces of rock covered with vegetation and tall trees in the gorge below, gives it a rainforest look and of course there is also a misty view to Glastonbury Tor with Wearyall Hills' long length blending into the landscape.
If you drive back to Priddy you should see some of the Nine Barrows on the horizon, turning left from the carpark takes you to Wookey Hole, and not too far away is Westbury Sub Mendip, where I believe half million year old bones were found…..
Its a middling demanding walk, steep paths and a bit of rock climbing.

Prehistoric Cave Art Is A Mammoth Find

It might not have the instant impact of modern graffiti but a mammoth carved on to a wall in Cheddar Caves 13,000 years ago is being hailed as one of the most significant examples of prehistoric art ever found in Britain. The carving - a little larger than a man's hand, is only the second piece of representational cave art found in Britain, and contemporary with the golden age of cave art in Europe... the rest can be found in the following article...

Monday, August 13, 2007


...... Often when walking early in the morning one becomes aware how truly magnificent the clouds are. Whether the dull grey blankets that stretch from horizon to horizon, or the truly beautiful sunrise, as the colours chase gently across the sky.

Today this other nebulous natural world decided to set out its full array of outstanding creativity. Another world lives above our heads, great white mountains softly moulded, blue duck egg lakes lie tranquil amidst the snowy peaks. They are undershot with horizontal banding of dark grey islands and far to the west the grey blanket of rainclouds are already dispensing vertical misty shadows onto the earth below. The emerging sun delicately edges its attendant clouds with soft apricot and cream, it cannot gain dominancy just yet and bleach out all the colours.

No wonder the ancients looked up into this sky and wondered and saw a physical presence in nature, later, people turned this other world into the habitat of gods, and in doing so reduced the magnificence of nature to the paltry affairs of man.

Looking up and seeing this ethereal world, we are rationally expected to give names to the clouds, - cirrus, cumulus, nimbus, the following passage shows how easily latin words flows into the description of clouds or flowers.....

Just three Latin words unlock the meanings of most cloud names: Stratus meaning layer; cumulus, the word for lump or heap; and cirrus, which means wispy or curly. Add to this basic group the word nimbus, which means 'pouring down rain,' alto, the word meaning middle, and fracto for broken and you've got almost the entire sky covered.
Stratocumulus? That's easy - a layer of lumpy clouds. Cirrostratus - a wispy, curly layer of clouds. Cumulo-nimbus - big lumpy clouds that can pour down rain. How about fractostratus - a smooth layer of clouds that looks sort of torn apart.

There we have it, our beautiful world of clouds reduced to names, fairytales and myths long gone
, but nature has no need of words, from a palette of colours the skies will be painted, billowing clouds will form animals, ships and people to the imaginative eye, clouds will race across the sun darkening the land and sea sometimes bringing such darkness as hurricanes and storms rage that it would seem the very end is near.

We cannot expect to go back to a past time, when the sky was god or the land a goddess, but it is comforting to know that once a very long time ago, before we became all knowing that the sky was indeed a mystical place, with its scattering of stars and great Milky Way and that it inspired stories.

The following link is an article written by John Vincent Bellezza, about the Divine Dyads of Tibet, or at least a part of Tibet. Before buddhism, or the Bon religion,there was an earlier neolithic/bronze age religion which fed into the later mythologies. The Divine Dyads are mountain (male) and lake (female) pairings of gods, and are part of the sacred landscape of Tibet, similar in fact to the early mythologised Celtic landscape of Ireland, with its four provinces and central Midhe..
In Bellezza's book Divine Dyads, he mentions circles and straight rows of stones similar to that found in European megalithic culture, but the nature of Tibet is such that very little archaeological work has been done. Though his book is long it is not exactly an easy read, this due to the fact that he uses the Tibetan language, to explain all the named gods, natural features, etc.

The Metrical Dinshenchas

Friday, August 10, 2007

Stoney Littleton Longbarrow

Friday, another beautiful day, sod painting the utility room, there is more to life than applying paint to walls. To get to Stoney Littleton, via Homebase and paint, one has to drive across Bath, up the Wellsway and onto the A367 to Radstock but then just by Burnt Inn and the Fosse Way, turn left down to Wellow, and drive along an enchanting lane for three miles. It dips and curves, in and out of shadowy woods, small valleys and open country. Entering Wellow turn right and continue along the lane for about half a mile and then to the left is the sign to Stoney Littleton.
I parked at the top of the lane by the farm buildings, you can drive all the way down for about a mile and park by the Wellow Brook for the longbarrow, but today decided to walk the lane.
Moss already anticipating a decent walk, is off and out of the car and we make our way down the narrow lane. There are not many flowers at this time of the year, the first flush being over, but the air is warm and there are butterflies around on the blackberry bushes. The elderberries are already turning dark red and the lane disappears into a tunnel of trees creating a cool atmosphere. The Wellow Brook burbles contentedly to the left, snaking its way through the fields, and I take a photo of the Barrow crouched on the far hillside. Stoney Littleton sits under the ridge, its entrance facing upwards, maybe to greet sunrise, there is a ceremony around the 23rd December, when the sun is said to strike the back of the chambers.
At last we arrive at the small stile and bridge that crosses the brook, here one must stand and take in the azure blue of the demoiselles as they swoop across the water landing on pretty pink flowers to show off their colours. Then it is up through the fields till you reach a gate and enter the very stony field of the Long Barrow. Poppies, oxeye daisies and a great vegative black stand of beans, probably field beans. Over the stile, Moss has to be lifted over this one, and then we are in the little paddock dedicated to the barrow. As we approach the entrance I spy people inside, and so I sit down outside to gather in the peace of the surrounding countryside. Two people emerge, a ponytailed man, a woman and then...... A North American Indian, complete with aquilian nose and ponytail, we all greet each other (he did indeed raise his hand in that fabulous 'how' gesture) and Moss barks furiously at these Hobbits that have emerged from the dark cavern of the barrow, refusing to be friendly with the men.
My mind is already bouncing along with totem poles and ceremonial pipes enacted in front of our own native longbarrow, it seems so extraordinary that someone who understands the whole ceremonial ritual in another far country should be here. They depart and Moss and I go down the narrow passage to the chambers, its cool and dark but just a little scary, stanchions are inserted in some places along its length. Coming out into the bright sun, sitting and reflecting on the landscape, and remembering that there are other longbarrows that have been found along these valleys, and perhaps just as interesting, the tufa that was found further south by the Wellow brook, was the magic power of the ammonite on the doorway a symbol of the tribe who lived here, and did the tufa have some function in their lives.
Down back through the fields, and as we get to the stile, the three are there looking at the Brook. I wait by the stile for some horses to pass, Moss does'nt like horses either, and the people drive off, my Indian friend waving out of the car as they go. Back along the lane following the sound of receding hoofbeats, there is a small black child on a white horse and his father is riding also, maybe one day I'll bring Fitnit down here and get her on horseback at the Wellows Riding stables.

Facts and figures; Stoney Littleton is 36 m in length, 18 m in breadth; it is orientated SE/NW, of approximately 20 longbarrows to be found in North Somerset, 6 are SE/NW, 5 E/W, and the rest are sited to all points of the compass, perhaps showing that there is no fixed plan as to ritual placing of sites in the landscape. There is also no distinct pattern as to how they are arranged in the landscape, Stoney Littleton entrance faces upwards, but some longbarrows are parallel to slope, and some some right angle to slope, with three on level ground and two on top of a hill. Stoney Littleton is about 2 kilometres from Bray's Down Barrow, and there are other barrows situated in about a 15 kilometre radius .

Colt Hoare and the Reverend Skinner excavated SL in the 19th century, they tunnelled from the top as the entrance was blocked up with stones and earth. Apparently there had been a blocking stone at the entrance but this has disappeared. They found bits and pieces of human bone in several of the chambers (there are 6), and a complete burial pot was found but this has since disappeared.Colt Hoare described the barrow as one of the finest in Britain, but perhaps he was somewhat mistaken in that judgment, WKLB being exceedingly fine as well.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


For Edmund Husserl, phenomenology is an approach to philosophy that takes the intuitive experience of phenomena (what presents itself to us in phenomenological reflexion) as its starting point and tries to extract from it the essential features of experiences and the essence of what we experience. This has been called a "transcendental phenomenology". Husserl's view stems from the School of Brentano and was developed further by philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Max Scheler, Hannah Arendt, Dietrich von Hildebrand and Emmanuel Levinas ...

Phenomenology is a word I come up against time and time again, the latest in the book "the Spell of the Sensuous by David Abrams" described thus in the blurb as how to "reveal the subtle dependence of human cognition on the natural environment".

So this sets the stage for some thinking on my part, having as it were explored my thinking on narrating the landscape, what actually happens when a mind starts to relate to its surrounding.
Phenomenology has three slightly different interpretations, Hegel and Heidegger give other dimensions their interpretations can be found on Wikipedia here...

Edmund Husserl's philosophical discipline was "the things themselves" experiencing the world as it is happening in the immediate now. The very subjectivity of experience that can be found in the senses as we see, hear, smell touch, etc and the way language was formed to express our sense of the natural environment. It would argue that science plays a secondary role in all this because science draws together only parts of a disassembled truth. Science, like any other discipline, is constructed on a subjective understanding of the world it has not been "grounded" though on the basic experience of the world.
"to return to things themselves is to return to that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks, and in relation to which every scientific schematization is an abstract and derivative sign language" Maurice Merleau-Ponty
the above probably states it very clearly more then I do, and this theory has been explored by such people as architect Christopher Alexander in his four books on the Nature of
Order. Here Alexander has used through the medium of architecture and paintings an exploration of the inner centrality that the things around us are imbued with, and that art expressives itself through not only the thinking mind but is shaped by what it percieves - interaction works from both directions - and by comparing and contrasting different art forms and materials used, he shows his thinking, and of course his belief.
The other discipline phenomenology can be found in is archaeology, here the exponents are Christopher Tilley, Richard Bradley and others. They use this philosophical tool to explain the religious beliefs of prehistory. Whether it works in this context I am not sure, the unknown is just that, unknown, to explain it from your own subjective experience is to step lightly on unbroken waters, but every ripple from an alternative viewpoint will muddy those selfsame waters and one is in danger of falling through and drowning.
Richard Bradley has two front cover pieces on his books of Mark Johnston's photo-montage of the circular in nature, some of stone circles, Johnston describes our approach to circularity as somewhat flawed in a photograph because we only image the horizon as a straight line, in reality our human vision encompasses a circular vision (stand and turn round and watch the sky meet the land and note how we really do live on a globe) - the circle of the world is reflected in the circle of our inner perception.

Perhaps what he means by the circle of our inner perception is our closed mind, which bumps against the phenomena of the outside world and tries to rationalise everything in its path. Religion is not rational, neither is belief, but people employ their minds to believe anything, because they wish to give sense to the world around them.
So going back to Christopher's Alexander belief in an 'essence' in all living forms, which should manifest itself in organic design and use of natural materials are we to believe him? does a rounded, cob built house with a thatch have artistic merit or does it hark back to a romanticised historical past. Does a hand thrown pot painted with natural clay dyes have any more resonance with our souls than a beautiful highly decorated glazed pot. One is of course the result of technical excellence, the other a more homely reminder of our roots.
Gary Snyder - Old Woodrat's Stinky House

Us critters hanging out together

something like three billion years

Three hundred something million years

the solar system swings around

With all the milky way

Ice ages come one hundred fifty million years apart

last about 10 million

then warmer days return

A venerable desert

woodrat nest of twigs and shreds

plastered down with ambered urine

A family house in use 8000 thousand years,

and four thousand years of using writing equals

the life of a bristlecone pine -

A spoken language works

for about five centuries,

Lifespan of a douglas fir;

big floods, big fires, every couple hundred years

a human life lasts eighty,

a generation twenty.

Hot summers every eight or ten,

four seasons every year

twenty-eight days for the moon

day/night the twenty-four hours

and a song lasts four minutes

a breath is a breath

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Argument ad Baculuum

Note; Argument ad baculuum to give an example..... a religious reply to a moral sceptic's question;- Why should I believe in such and such a way, is simply "because God requires it of you" in other words if you don't you will be punished argumentum ad baculum comes down to the use of threat, appealing to a 'force'. Threats of course are never a logical justification for acting one way or another... if there is a god, and hell fire, than it might be prudent to obey god; but the threat of punishment is not a principled reason for obedience. ........A.C.Grayling

Casuistry is a broad term that refers to a variety of forms of case-based reasoning. Used in discussions of law and ethics casuistry is often understood as a critique of a strict principle based approach to reasoning. For example, while a principle-based approach may conclude that lying is always morally wrong, the casuist would argue that lying may or may not be wrong, depending on the details surrounding the case. For instance, the casuist might conclude that a person is wrong to lie while giving legal testimony under oath, but (the casuist might argue) lying is actually the best moral choice if the lie saves someone's life. For the casuist, the circumstances surrounding a particular case are essential for evaluating the proper response ... Wikipedia explanation.

Paganism... nature beliefs characteristic of ancient paganism reflect the origins of religion as mankind's first attempt at science and technology. Its science because it takes in how the world works, it taught because the wind blows and invisible powers puff their cheeks and blow, and also that crops grow and rain falls at the will, or the whim of - the gods...
so according to Grayling, people watch the Easter ceremony on tv to replenish their faith in dim superstitions whose roots lie when our species was in its infancy, and which were dreamed up then to fill the vacuum of humanity's early ignorance

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Silbury Reflections

Yesterday I walked all round Silbury on a warm sunny day, that by happenstance turned out to be Lammas so I was rewarded by the event of a Druid ceremony on top of the hill, though in truth I was supposed to be recording what was happening with the contractors work to restore the mound to its original state.
Moss and I commenced our walk from the carpark, over the road, and there is the river beautiful as ever, long green fronds moving under the water, always invoking Rossetti's Ophelia drowning. Though rotten Rossetti made his wife lie submerged in a bath of cold water to get the effect, and probably gave her pneumonia. But the river is sparkling clear, making those soft chuckling, rilling noises as it flows under the silver leaved willows. There is a green verdancy about after all that rain, an exuberant green energy, broken by patches of flowers and the field of ripening yellow wheat. As we walk along the path I spy a partridge ahead, suddenly little chicks appear from out the undergrowth, maybe eight,I hold on to Moss's collar as they awkwardly take to the air, the mother continues along the path with a little one following furiously and they escape under the bar. Continuing to the bridge, and over the stile, where I see a hare sitting as bold as brass in the grass, his ears are a much darker colour than his body and so enormous, I sit on the stile and he sits in his field, Moss investigates the hedgerow, a perfect moment, magical of course a hare on Lammas day.
Photographing Silbury now, I notice the monorail running like a zip up her side, the rail is aligned with the straight ditch that leads to the river, and I wonder if they are draining the water from Silbury this way. Though later I am told there was no need to drain water. Up Waden Hill to take in the view, West Kennet longbarrow in the distance, crowning its ridge amongst the vast space that is the Wiltshire downs. Sweeping round now to Silbury, the neat square of the archaeological/contractors compound under the hill, on top men in bright orange move around the great necklace of its silver fence which sits ungainly on top. Moss is on his back rolling happily in the grass and we descend to follow the path once more. More photos, there is a crane hiding neatly in the hedgerow away from the compound, and as we come up to the road, a crew of two, camera and interviewer, one of the men rush over the road to me, had I seen the druid procession along the path. I had'nt, no one had followed me, and I am glad that the partridge and hare are now in hiding and can watch the humans play their games.
Walking along the road to the visitors centre, I meet two women with pushchairs, plump and slightly panting from their exertions they are definitely druidical in their colourful clothes, we greet each other. Further on I pass three people coming out of the compound, the two girls are in shorts, archaeologist team, but the man is dressed in a formal brown suit, it looks like Professor Ronald Hutton is here to witness the pagan ceremony, coincidentally I am reading his books at the moment, a sceptic like me, he is honest in his appraisal of this 'otherworld'and records, like all good historian should, the passing of this particular history.
I stop and take photos of the entrance to Silbury, a solitary helmeted Skanska man stands guard just below, waiting for Terry the Druid to make his climb to the top of the mound. People are gathering, but I go on, first to stop at the visitors centre to gather information. During my conversation with the girl there, we got to talking about the platform on top, and maybe its levelling during the Saxon period, when it seems to been made into a stockade, evidence of postholes in a trench have been found, but has only one trench was opened I suppose this can't be confirmed.
Walking now down to the little bridge, here along the path I can watch Terry the Druid conduct his ceremony, Hail and Farewell rings down from the top of the hill, part of the ceremony is to go to the four quarters of the hill and call on Lightening, but sadly (or happily) it does not appear, he kneels down and seems to dig the earth, is he taking or giving I wonder?
Musing at the bridge, watching the clear water make its way down the river, one realises nothing really matters in the world, the moment is captured, Moss will at the end of the walk take one last cold drink from the river, sating his thirst and resigning himself to the end of a happy ramble looking for elusive mice and voles.