Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Celtic Heads

My avatar pictures is the above carving, basically because I love the fierceness of his face and his individuality. Also I hope he scares the trolls away!  He was the Romano-British symbol of power above the door as people entered the Romano-British temple in Bath.  Considered to be one of the finest carvings from the Celtic time, he represents power  and symbolic meanings but he also represents that Roman gods over the British people had equal representation with their own gods.  No use frightening the local populace with bad assed gods from one's  own dynasty of gods better too amalgamate them.

A wild and woolly Celt, with the added trappings of a Roman god.  At first you mistake him for a  male Gorgon though in actual fact the Gorgons were female, but notice that he has wings, ears and is that two snakes wreathed round his beard? And to quote from 'The Waters of the Gap' written by R.J.Stewart in the 1980s you will see a whole map of symbolism could be deduced from this mask.

"The stylised head of the Celtic Sun God, Belinus or Bel, identified by the Greeks and Romans with Apollo.  His waving flaming hair discloses his wings and ears, typical solar attributes for an all-seeing, all-hearing god.  Although the head is constructed in such a way as to be a full face in flattened relief, similar to metalwork of the period.  The presence of two intertwined snakes around the lower part might represent a torque. The Celtic neck ornament of magical power, which symbolised the union with the forces of nature"

Stewart goes on to say that the head might be  that of Bladud, the founding king of Bath, but this story is given at a much later date by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century.  But Bladud and the pigs is another fascinating story of myth.

This is a better photo than mine they have sharpened the image.

Its early interpretation in the hands of male archaeologists, rests on classical education, in other words, British 'native' people were inferior (a bit like women;) and it was the teaching hand of the Roman elite who had this made.  Given that it was made in Britain, and is a fine example of carving, think Celtic and the marvellous stories that had passed down through the ages.  And perhaps thank the Romans for addressing the fact that conquering was not about forcing one's gods on the conquered.  Though in fairness I will quote Richmond and Toynbee........

"The Gorgon' states in the clearest possible terms that these pedimental sculptures were the work of a Celtic artist, trained in a classical school, but transposing the themes that he had learnt there into the native idiom of his race.  Part of that idiom is the subtle blending in the masks of snakes, locks and wings - so subtle that it is by no means easy at first glance, to pick out the six uncrested heads of the female snakes.  And it takes some thought to disentangle the two crested males, which are knotted together below the 'gorgon's chin"

There is another myth to be thought of as well.  The Celts had a reverence for the heads of their enemies, in many places you will find just carvings of severed heads.  In the temple of Rocquepertuse there were niches carved out in the pillars for the skulls of their defeated enemies..

And of course there is the famous Bran story, when the head of Bran was carried to London, he talked to the party escorting him, and was only silent when he was buried in London (and no more plague fell upon the land!) This is a Welsh tale from The Mabinogion and can be attributed Celtic mythology.

"Take my head, and carry it to the White Hill in London and bury it there with the face towards France.  You will be long on the road, and spend seven years feasting at Hardllech, with the Birds of Rhiannon singing to you, and the head will be good as a companion as it ever was."

The head was facing Europe as a national guardian, the relic of a powerful king and Otherworld hero.
It all reminds me of the Celtic Exhibition we saw in Stuttgart in 2014, when for the first time I saw the Gundestrup Cauldron and its fabulous motifs. The cauldron in magic myth gave a never ending supply of food and gives material credence to all those stories from long ago.

to be continued

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