Monday, 31 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part eleven

One of the most impressive Neolithic burial
chambers in Europe, Maes Howe is seen here
from the Tormiston - Gorn road.
© Copyright Stephen McKay and licensed for
reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
 Maes Howe is a passage tomb in Orkney that is about five thousand years old. Like Newgrange in Ireland, and of about the same time period, Maes Howe is aligned to the winter solstice. Unlike Newgrange, there appears to have been no burial inside. It might be more accurate to say that at least some of this type of monument were more like temples. While some megalithic monuments had been associated with the druids since Medieval times, modern scholars have shown there was no Celtic connection as the monuments predate even the Hallstatt Celts by about two thousand years or so.

Recently, however, alignments at Maes Howe have been associated with the exact times of the important Celtic festivals  of Samhain and Imbolc. The entire region seems to have been a very important religious site, but beyond knowing that importance was placed on such alignments, and that the passage tombs had some symbology regarding the journey of the dead to some sort of underworld, very little else can be said with much certainty.

Some researchers have suggested that the passage tomb might represent the birth canal and thus the journey to the Underworld might have been seen as a new birth. The mound, itself, evokes the idea of  pregnancy. This idea resonates with the belief, by many modern Christians that after death, the faithful will spend eternity in heaven. Taking into consideration, though, that solstices are annual events, and spiral symbols found on some monuments, together with labyrinth designs on other monuments and regardless of the period, culture or geographical location, these sort of symbols (whenever the meaning is still known) all represent a journey to another existence and it would seem that this journey is a cyclical event. In other words, the soul would experience successive lives and this phenomenon is a reflection of cosmological events.

the view from the large central
chamber looking back to the entrance
© Copyright Rob Burke and licensed
for reuse under this Creative
Diodorus, quoting the sixth century B.C. historian, Hecataeus, says:
"Opposite to the coast of Celtic Gaul there is an island in the ocean, not smaller than Sicily, lying to the north, which is inhabited by Hyperboreans...Apollo visits the island once in the course of nineteen years in which period the stars complete their revolutions..."
Strabo, and others reporting on the travels of Posidonius in the first century B.C., tell of an island off the coast of Armorica,where priestesses worshipped a god at a temple that was roofed. It was their custom to unroof it once a year, insisting that it be roofed again before sunset. This is close to the effect at Newgrange when the roof box was opened to allow the first rays of the sun to enter on the winter solstice.

The winter solstice is the dawn of the solar year, and Maes Howe and Newgrange are aligned to that event. One of the representations of a radiate sun symbol, on K88, consists of two sets of lines radiating from a central pellet close to the pellet-in-circle; the rays, themselves ending in attached pellets, are surmounted by an arc of seven pellets. The sun symbol on the back corbel stone of the roof-box has six radiate lines, or four plus a broken baseline, and omits the circle, leaving only the central pellet. Nineteen pellets are arranged in two semi-circular rows around this symbol. When the roof box was opened on the winter solstice, at dawn, the light would travel in along a passage perfectly aligned to illuminate the inner chamber. The sets of nineteen and seven pellets on various of these radiate suns represent the nineteen year cycle for reconciling solar and lunar time, which involves an intercalation of seven months (Metonic cycle). The famous triple spiral at Newgrange (with its "threeness" symbology) represents completeness and a cyclic event. this might be understood as a life in this world followed by another life in an otherworld and then death and rebirth, again, in this world -- showing the complete cycle. It would be strange if it had a different meaning -- mythological themes always have consistency and a clear meaning, you never see mindless pastiches of mythological symbols in the same work -- the story is always very clear if you can read the symbology. All mythologies, too, are reflections of the human condition. It is only the modern mind, conditioned by the Logos of our time, which believes that mythology is just a reflection of the natural world and an effort to explain it. Mythology is not a "primitive science", it is a "primitive psychology".

That deities later associated with cosmological events which are recognized with Megalithic monuments became part of the Celtic pantheon should not be too surprising -- Christianity has had a history of nearly two thousand years and Hinduism might well predate any megalithic monument. Religious and mythological elements last longer than anything else.

Some ideas of endless cycles were likely in the minds of the earlier Celts as they expanded into new territories and seeing similarities in the beliefs of all of the peoples that they encountered on their travels could have contributed much to their attested characteristic of using riddles and metaphor to explain their world-view. Perhaps some of them also learned that, without specialized training and a penchant for philosophy, the average person could easily believe in an absolute and historical accuracy for their myths. Without the survival of a priestly and widespread organization which seems to have existed in the Megalithic,  a mainstream religion would likely have evolved into smaller cults, each slightly differently on local levels. Just as the Celtic deities attracted the addition of Roman god names in the earlier Roman Imperial period, only to have the Celtic names later forgotten, the names of any deities that might have existed in the pre-Indo European languages were likely eventually replaced by Celtic equivalents.

Perhaps it was by trial and error, but it seems that by the time of Caesar, the Celts were taking a position of religious tolerance, understanding that the gods that one of their client tribes worshipped was little different from those worshipped by other tribes. Observing the extreme religious faith of the populations they encountered, and having an interest in philosophy, they came to understand that by insinuating themselves at the top of a religious hierarchy of the people they had joined and appearing to fully support the local rites, they would have no problems with the locals -- modern leaders have often been less intelligent and religious conflicts are thus a common feature of the modern world which has shifted far too much toward the Logos end of the Mythos/Logos spectrum.

Syncretism can bring varied religions together in a single belief incorporating a number of the elements of the previous beliefs, or it can do the opposite, whereby a single religion develops into various sects -- or even completely new religions through its evolution incorporating local characteristics. Sometimes, elements of an earlier belief evolve into a negative aspect of the replacing belief -- for example, "Lucifer" derives from an appellation of Apollo "Luciferous" (light-bringer) -- rather different from its current, popular, interpretation. Gradually, rules designed for practical reasons can take on s singular religious application. I spoke of how the druids must have seen how too much wealth in the hands of a private army could spell doom for their control of the population and their role in such. To place a taboo on reusing booty, would eliminate the problem and the people would more easily obey a religious taboo than a bureaucratic policy.

Tomorrow, the meeting of two branches of the same world-view.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part ten

Based on the model given by
Fergus Kelly, Early Irish Law.
uploader: Deacon of Pndapetzim
The divisions of people within Irish early Gaelic society is shown to the right. Written down in the early Medieval period, these laws evolved as oral tradition within the Irish La Tène period. Yesterday, I quoted Caesar's description of the Gaulish two-faction system of government which was embedded in all levels of the society from families to kings. If we had any contemporary information of a Gaulish equivalent to the Irish hierarchy, it would likely foreshadow it to some degree. While we cannot know its details, its original existence  is typical for just about any primitive government. Such laws evolve according to need and give us strong clues about the structure of the society at the time of recording.

Whenever a law is mentioned, the first job of any researcher should be to ask why such a law should exist. In part eight of this series, I gave Caesar's description of a religious law concerning the fate of captured booty. The idea of setting up a trophy consisting of the spoils of war was not a new thing -- the Romans did it too. However, these trophies contained a "representative sample" of booty that represented the battle and it was taken down after what was considered to be a suitable period. The idea that war booty should never be reused is very strange and I think that this law was seen to be necessary as the Celtic armies brought back a huge amount of gold from their Mediterranean campaigns and, as gold was the currency of warfare, it would be most likely that the wealthiest commander would be in a position to become a tyrant. That the law was religious in its nature is also interesting -- we also discover that a common druidic penalty for a crime was the prohibition of sacrifice. It is clearly apparent that druid judges utilized religious belief in the making of their laws.

Yet, we have no definitive evidence from the ancient authors that the druids were priests. Instead, the authors speak of a supervisory role for the druids whenever the people were offering a sacrifice. Being a non-literate society, we can find no exact modern equivalent to this state of affairs. About the closest modern custom to this would be the marriage licence -- While a wedding can be a religious event, it can also be conducted, in many places, in a civil ceremony with no religious trappings at all. Usually, though, the same licence is required in both cases and the signing authority is a government official without any (official) religious affiliations. When laws include religious details we can be sure that religion and politics are both part of the ruling authority and there is no separation of "Church and State". In fact, any term meaning "church and state" would likely not even exist as any sort of consideration to the people of that society. So when we read that the Celts would not engage in a religious ceremony without a druid present, we can understand it better by realizing that no one could be married in a church without first obtaining a government licence to do so.

It would also seem to be true that religious concerns of the common people provided the means by which the druids could exert their control of the people. Today, it is only the threat of loss of freedom or the threat of fines which serve as a deterrent beyond the individual's own sense of ethics and morals. We see this also appearing in the early Irish laws as well with fines being calculated by the nature of the crime and the "honor price" bestowed on the victim by the society. As the society evolves, laws then get created to address the problems experienced through these changes and they, too, become part of the evolution of that society.

On Monday we will look at how druidic power became embedded in Gaulish society as part of the Celtic expansion of the La Tène culture.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part nine

Druid's Temple 
(Geograph image)
Folly near Ilton, Yorkshire (1820)
© Copyright Gordon Hatton and
licensed for reuse under this
As the photograph of the Druid's Temple folly attests, legends that the druids had something to do with the building of Stonehenge had a lasting impact. When I first became interested in the druids, modern scholarship had dismissed the old legends but I noticed that there was little offered to replace them. Years later, ideas about an ancient Celtic culture were being similarly dismissed but through a highly nuanced set of ideas about what a culture entails.

In recent years, stone alignments in the Orkneys have inspired the idea that the traditional Celtic holidays of Samhain, Imbolc, etc. were considered important even before Stonehenge was built. While this certainly does not validate the idea of druids building Stonehenge, it suggests to me that the Celtic festivals were actually a continuation of local religious ideas that had their origin in the Neolithic.

The surviving classical histories that describe the druids start at about the time of Caesar, and Caesar gives us the most detailed information, but religions slowly change through syncretistic agencies and efforts to make the religion pertinent and workable in each time. If a syncretistic event is important enough -- something that would concern a great number of people and that would actually reinforce people's self-identity, then an essentially new religion or set of beliefs and resulting customs can emerge. This is also often reflected in a new artistic movement. A couple of thousand years later, all of the pertinent religious details have been lost (and the mystery religions kept them secret right from the start).

Sometime in the 5th century BC, the first signs of La Tène art were appearing as a result of syncretisms between Celts and other cultures in northern Italy. It seems to have been a very gradual change at first -- there is no clear line where Celtic features were first being expressed in the Golasecca culture.  We get the idea of a growing cosmopolitan centre and this increases with wealthy Etruscan patronage attracting artisans and even philosophers from far and wide. Later, powerful and generous Greek commanders like Dionysius, the Tyrant of Syracuse make way for the large Celtic military bases to be set up there.

Pythagoreanism, through its founder moving to Croton in Italy and setting up a school, had an great impact on the area. Interestingly, it received criticism from people who saw the Pythagoreans becoming too involved in local politics, and this almost put a stop to it, but it survived. The Celts who had arrived in Italy to serve in Greek military campaigns came with their own tradition of "religious tolerance". Over the centuries, they had come to realize that instead of trying to eradicate the beliefs and customs of the people they encountered in their travels, a better strategy was to insinuate themselves at the apex of the indigenous cultures and give the appearance of a supporting administration while changing things to further their own interests in its name.

Augustus did the same sort of thing with his puppet kings affecting a local cultural conservatism -- the Thracian revival (which emphasized the Mysteries in its art) being an example. Augustus also implemented the tradition of Roman troops swearing allegiance to the emperor instead (as it had been formerly) to their commander. It is not impossible that Augustus knew how the druid class in Gaul had been successful in placing themselves at the top of local cultures. Apart from his own connections with Gaul, he would have read Caesar's commentaries:
"Since I have arrived at this point, it would seem to be not inappropriate to set forth the customs of Gaul and of Germany, and the difference between these nations. In Gaul, not only in every state and every canton and district, but almost in each several household, there are parties; and the leaders of the parties are men who in the judgment of their fellows are deemed to have the highest authority, men to whose decision and judgment the supreme issue of all cases and counsels may be referred. And this seems to have been an ordinance from ancient days, to the end that no man of the people should lack assistance against a more powerful neighbour; for each man refuses to allow his own folk to be oppressed and defrauded, since otherwise he has no authority among them. The same principle holds in regard to Gaul as a whole taken together; for the whole body of states is divided into two parties." (VI, 11)
There can be little doubt that the druids took an important role in such judgements. Unlike the idea of them being priests, their roles as judges is clearly attested by the ancient authors. The system described above can be seen reflected in later Irish laws (Brehon Laws). Just how much control they did exert is argued -- Sean B. Dunham taking the side of them being the actual ruling class.

Tomorrow, we will start to put it all together...

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part eight

East Riding of Yorkshire
"Mars is Lord of warfare, and it is to him, when they have decided to fight a battle, that they generally promise the booty they look forward to taking. When they are victorious, they sacrifice the captured animals and assemble their other booty in one spot. One can see large piles of such material at consecrated places in many tribal areas, and it rarely happens that anyone dares, in defiance of religion, either to hide booty in his house or to remove anything once placed in position (on the pile). For such an act is assigned the severest of penalties accompanied by torture."
Caesar, VI, 17
The importance of gold to the La Tène Celts cannot be overestimated: it was used to create the finery displayed by powerful leaders and to pay for the hire of troops for their military campaigns.  Coin evidence clearly shows that Gaul, and even Britain had been part of the greater Greek world before the arrival of the Romans. This is not some obscure fact to numismatists who have long included Gaulish and British Celtic coins in their catalogues of Greek coins. The name of the commonest denomination in Gaulish and British gold coinage is referred to as the “stater” – the same denomination that was popular all over the Greek world. Even the division of the Celtic stater into quarters was common in Greece. The designs of the Celtic coins were mostly taken from Greek originals and the function of the gold as a wartime currency followed the Greek custom.

In his synopsis of Ancient Greek gold coinage up to the time of Philip of Macedon,  in Travaux de Numismatique Grecque Offerts à Georges Le Rider, Spink, 1999, John R. Melville Jones says:
"Coinage in gold was issued by Greek mints at first only in emergencies, when silver was not available. It was later also used when the recipients of this coinage preferred to be paid in this metal. The most usual reason for this preference was that the recipients were mercenary soldiers, or were serving away from their own countries for some other reason. Commercial considerations or a desire on the part of rulers to advertise themselves were less relevant to the choice of gold as a metal in which to strike coins. It should be assumed that most payments of large sums to soldiers were made at the conclusion of their period of service."
We have to ask ourselves why the Romans grew to prominence so rapidly that they eclipsed all of the other influences that helped to form Celtic society and even brought about an end to the classical Greek world itself.  Roman historians do not help us much in this quest, although the answers are there if one can look past the “Roman inevitability” in the tone of their writing. It is said that history is written by the victors, and although they do not always have to tell lies in these histories, they can, however decide what to tell and what to omit, and they can become especially loquacious when it comes to elaborating on facts with the addition of virtually mythical Roman heroes who often came along, in the nick of time, to save the day. Livy is well known for such elaborations, yet he does provide us with one of the best clues as to what really happened to further the interests of the Romans. The reason that this story managed to creep into the history was that it did not put the Romans in a bad light. There was no reason for him to lie about it or to make it more or less significant. It might also be that its import eluded him, as it seems to have eluded historians since then. This is what he said:
"The Etruscans also chose this year [299 B.C.] to prepare for war in contravention of the truce, but were diverted from their purpose for a little while by a huge army of Gauls which crossed their borders when they were busy with other things. They then tried to convert the Gauls from enemies to allies, relying on the money which gave them power, in order to fight the Romans with the two combined armies. The barbarian Gauls did not refuse an alliance; it was only a question of the price. This was agreed on and the money changed hands, but when the Etruscans had finished all the rest of their preparations for war and ordered the Gauls to follow them, the Gauls denied that the agreed payment was for making war on the Romans; anything they had received had been in return for not destroying Etruscan land and interrupting its cultivation by armed raids. However, they were willing to take up arms if the Etruscans really wanted them, but only on condition that they were admitted to a share in Etruscan land where they could at last settle in some definite home. Many councils of the people of Etruria were held to consider this request without reaching any decision, not so much out of reluctance to allow any reduction of territory but because everyone dreaded having men of so savage a race as his neighbour. The Gauls were accordingly dismissed, and went off with an enormous amount of money which they had acquired without effort or risk. At Rome the rumour of a Gallic rising in addition to an Etruscan war caused much alarm, and speeded up the conclusion of a treaty with the people of Picenum”
Livy, Book X, 10.10.
While the amount paid to the Gauls was not specified, it was said that it was huge and we can imagine that it was far more than had been paid to the Gauls before to release Rome back to the Romans. The Gauls demanded far more than the Romans could pay and wealthy Massallia had to come to Rome’s aid – even then having to rely on extra funds raised from her wealthiest citizens. There was no state in northern Italy richer than the Etruscans and it is reasonable to believe that the amount that they paid to the Gauls was indeed very huge. They would have expected to regain some of that sum through the capture of Roman booty and would have also then benefited from taking over Roman trade in the area. This was why Massalia had earlier paid off the Gauls, so that the Roman trade would have interfered in the expansion of the Etruscan State.

There is evidence of a large devaluation in the Etruscan monetary economy at about that time: coins of the same weight bore inscriptions of denominations of twice what they had before – the sums were in the standard unit of account, the Italian copper as. For some time, numismatists believed that there were two coin standards referred to here, but now it is accepted that there was a massive devaluation of copper (Italo Vecchi, A  Re-assessment of the dating and Identification of Etruscan Coinage in The Celator, Vol. 17, No. 5, May, 2003. pp. 6 –12.) What this meant, in essence, was that sums paid to troops following a standard formula in units of account were now half in intrinsic value. In the ancient world, such rapid devaluations often led to the collapse of any state because it could only hope to defend itself from its enemies with troops obtained locally, or more remote troops that could not find suitable pay because of their lack of skills and/or weaponry.

Returning to Caesar, he says (VI,15):
"The other class consists of the Knights. When war breaks out and they are needed (before Caesar's arrival it was almost a yearly occurrence for the Gauls to be engaged in making raids or repelling them) they all engage in it, and each has a band of vassals and retainers about him in accordance with his birth and wealth. This is the only criterion of dignity and power they recognise."
From this statement, it would seem that "Small groups of the elite" would be something of an oxymoron, yet this is sometimes stated to refer to the continental Celts who first moved to Britain. In all of their Mediterranean campaigns, the main goals of the Celts were to obtain large amounts of gold by ransoming cities or by granting protection to those states who might worry about their arrival. Gold could buy more troops, and when the Celts first minted their own coinage, they adopted the Greek designs and usage for their own gold coinage.

It seems most likely to me that the Druidic taboo on utilizing booty captured in battle was a solution to the perceived scenario of large Celtic armies returning from the Mediterranean after the Romans' rise to dominance. If unchecked, such armies could soon obtain control of all of Gaul by using captured wealth to gain even more troops. Locking up all sources of great wealth would have preserved the status quo back home. Another clue, in Caesar's telling of the taboo is "they sacrifice the captured animals": within the clan system, and attested from a number of Celtic archaeological sites, massive sacrifices of animals at a feast was conducted by clan leaders at council meetings in order to maintain or expand their support from the population. Feasting, too, could gain more potential troops through alliances so forged. Making it a religious taboo would have settled the matter for most of the population who would have even been concerned about being banned from making sacrifices, let alone facing a horrible death under torture. Quite often, when you see religious taboos, more prosaic motives can be detected.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part seven

Coin of Naxos showing the head of Dionysos
wearing a stephanos 
decorated with an ivy scroll
and an ivy vine beside the satyr. 
circa 430-420 BC
Image courtesy of  Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
Dionysos is usually shown wearing an ivy wreath, but I have selected the coin on the right as on the portrait of Dionysos the ivy is depicted, not as a wreath, but as an ivy scroll on a stephanos. On the reverse of the coin, a satyr is shown with an ivy vine to his left.

When people think of the "god of the vine", it is the grape vine which usually comes to mind, but depictions of the ivy vine in association with Dionysos is actually commoner.

In his Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, Carl Kerényi says of the ivy:
"Its cycle of growth gives evidence of a duality which is quite capable of suggesting the two-fold nature of Dionysos. First it puts out the so-called shade-seeking shoots, the scandent tendrils with the well-known lobed leaves, Later, however, a second kind of shoot appears which grows upright and turns toward the light. The leaves are formed completely differently, and now the plant produces flowers and berries. Like Dionysos, it could well be called 'the twice-born' ... It blooms ... in the autumn, when the grapes of the vine are harvested. And it produces its fruit in spring. Between its blooming and its fruiting lies the time of Dionysos' epiphany in the winter months.
 Kerényi then contrasts the warm, summer grape vine with the cold, winter ivy vine -- the latter being "the irreconcilable opposite of life: death." Cosmologically, the solstices separate the year into dark and light months -- a cycle that is also represented in the darkness and light of every day. This gives us a clue as to why the Celts might have picked the ivy-scroll as one of their most prominent artistic motifs: Caesar (VI,18) says:
"The Gauls declare that they are all descended from Father Dis [Dis Pater], and they claim that this is the tradition of the Druids. For this reason they measure all periods not by the number of days but of nights."
Dis Pater became associated with the Roman Pluto and the Greek Hades. Iconographically, Underworld scenes often have the attendant serpents. As they guarded Persephone when she was in the Underworld, Zeus took the form of a serpent in order to impregnate her there. She gave birth to the first-born Dionysos who was in the form of a bull.

The Underworld, virtually universally, is depicted by some sort of spiral. It can have a number of forms: the spiral can be single, and represent death, or it can be double and represent either the cycle of life followed by another life in the Underworld, or a journey to the Underworld and its subsequent return. In the latter meaning, it is often a labyrinth that is depicted whereby a spiral journey leads to the centre and then another spiral journey leads back to its entrance.

 The coin on the left, from Knossos in Crete, shows a rectangular form of the labyrinth into which Theseus travelled to rescue Dionysos' wife Ariadne and there he slew the bull-headed Minotaur at its centre. The origin of the spiral or labyrinth is lost in antiquity, likely going back as far as the Palaeolithic. Joseph Campbell, in Primitive Mythology, saying that it also appears as a mental image experienced by some during meditation and also going under ether.

Symbol of the birth of the year beneath
the pony on this Coriosolite coin

 One of the unusual depictions of the spiral is its triple form that can be seen in the inner chamber at Newgrange (direct link to this image). It becomes illuminated when the rays of the winter solstice enter the monument through the roof-box at dawn (the birth of the new year reckoned from the darkest day of the year). Concentrated on stone around the entrance to the roof box are variations of a sun symbol with four rays. Another variation of this symbol is common on Celtic coins from Britanny, as is shown beneath the pony on the Coriosolite coin above, where it is known as "the lyre symbol" (the link goes one of my articles giving more details about its use). A triple spiral is also shown on this same coin and is typical to all Coriosolite coins having only two variations in its design. Other symbols from Irish rock art can also be found on coins from this region and Giot reported that. about that same time, Brittany was inhabited about 50/50 between the Celtic newcomers and the indigenous people who descended from the  megalithic period of the area. A gold lunar-shaped ornament from Ireland was once found in Brittany.

My interpretation of the Newgrange triple spiral variation is that it represents first, a path through life that ends in death; a second life in the Underworld; and finally, and at the death of the latter, a return to a new life in this world (where the process begins again). Three represents completeness and resurrection. It was as true at Newgrange as it is in Biblical studies. We have already noted, in this series, the association between Christ and Dionysos.

The Celtic Amfreville helmet
photo: Siren-Com
When the ivy-scroll became syncretized into La Tène art, each unit became tripled and it lost its leaves (that space often being used for other ornamentation). Much of what passed from earlier Greek art also lost its more representational content with only the basic pattern being syncretized. Threeness is one of the commonest features in Celtic art, being retained even into the Roman period -- for example the Dea Matres.

The material evidence, although scant (which is typical for Celtic iconography) is supported by the Classical authors' common descriptions of the Pythagorean belief shared by the Celts about the transmigration of souls. Its first appearance coincides with Italy becoming a popular destination for Celtic warriors seeking employment by Greek commanders. La Tène art is, I firmly believe, an indication of the syncretization of Celtic belief with the Greek mysteries and their off-shoot, Pythagoreanism.

Tomorrow, how events in Italy later changed Druidic policy in Gaul

Monday, 24 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part six

Chariot of Dionysos. Side A from an Attic
red-figure pelike by the Pasithea Painter
380–370 BC. Louvre, Paris.
The commonest misconception about the druids is that they were  priests. No ancient author makes this claim. Caesar (VI,13) says they:
"...officiate at religious ceremonies, supervise public and private sacrifices, and expound on religious questions. ... [concerning their judicial decisions:] If any individual or tribe does not abide by their decision, they are banned from sacrifices. This is regarded by them as the heaviest possible penalty, and those under such a ban are reckoned to be impious criminals: everyone shuns them, avoids going near them or speaking to them, in case they come to some harm through contact with them."
Diodorus Siculus (V,31) says:
"There are also philosophers and theologians called Druids to whom they accord great honour. ...   It is also their custom never to make a sacrifice without a 'philosopher'; for they say that thank offerings should be given to the gods by means of those who are experts in the nature of the divine, and, as it were, in communion with it. They also believe it is through these people that blessings should be sought. Nor is it only in time of peace that these people, together with the singers of songs, are given total obedience, but even in time of war, and by friend and foe alike."

Strabo (IV,4) gives:
"... the Druids engage in moral as well as natural philosophy. They are considered the most just of men. For this reason they are entrusted with deciding both private and public disputes, so that in earlier times they acted as arbitrators in war and made those on the point of going into battle stop, while cases of murder especially were handed over to them for decision. Whenever there is a large number of such murders, they consider there is also a large crop in store for them from the land. ... They would make no sacrifices without the Druids."
Cicero, De Divinatione (I, 90) comments:
"Not even among barbarians is the practice of divination neglected since there are Druids in Gaul, one of whom I knew myself your guest and eulogist Diviciacus the Aeduan. He claimed to have knowledge of nature, which Greeks call 'physiologia' and he used to tell the future partly by means of augury and partly by conjecture."
Lucan, in his play Pharsalia (I,450), has the following lines:
"And you Dryadae [Druids] set aside your arms and sought again your barbaric rites and the sinister practice of your religion. To you alone is granted knowledge of the gods and the powers of heaven, or you alone are ignorant of them. The depths of groves in far off forests are your abode, your teaching that the shades of the dead seek not the silent home of Erebus and the pallid realms of Pluto deep below: instead the same soul controls a body in another world, and if what you sing of is true, death is but the mid point of a long existence."
Pliny the Elder, Natural History (XVI, 249), and referring to mistletoe says: "The Druids (this is what they call their magicians)..", but in XVI, 251, continues, "The priest, dressed in a white robe, climbs the tree, reaps the mistletoe with a golden sickle, and it is gathered up in a white blanket. They then sacrifice the victims praying that the god makes this gift of theirs propitious for those to whom he has given it.". While the latter might be seen as an identification of druids as priests, it is not explicit and could also mean a priest under the authority of a druid. Pliny is mainly giving "Celtic home remedies" in his Natural History and seems to be only reporting what he has heard about them without offering any corroboration. He also derives "druid" from the Greek and says that it means "oak". Later, (XXX,13), he adds: "Magic undoubtedly had a hold on Gaul, even down to living memory for it was in the reign of Tiberius Caesar that their Druids and that type of soothsayer and healer were abolished.", so his mention of "priest" seems not to be defining the druids.

Pomponius Mela, De Chorographia (III,2) says:
"However they have their own brand of eloquence and in the Druids teachers of wisdom."

Ammianus Marcellinus (XV,8) wraps up our Druid definitions with:
"The Drysidae were men of greater intellect, bound together into close communities as laid down by Pythagorean teaching. They were inspired by investigations into questions of a secret and lofty nature and, scorning things human, declared the soul to be immortal."
The roles played by druids in Celtic society are judges, philosophers, magicians, teachers, and with regard to formal religious structures, seem to have a supervisory capacity over both priests and their followers. Their religious/philosophical  beliefs seem to have been applied through the medium of a mystery religion. The imagery of the Gundestrup cauldron focuses on two of these: mainly it focuses on Dionysianism, but there is also a lesser reference to the Eleusinian Mysteries. The connecting theme of both being journeys to the Underworld and the return, either as in a new life, or as a returning heroic "explorer". The ancient authors give most credit to Pythagoreanism which not only appears to have also been a "Mystery" but its founder had been an advocate of Orphism, which is closely related to Dionysianism with regard to Underworld matters.

It is easy for anyone to imagine that such a belief, with its ideas of the immortality of the soul, would have been very attractive for those engaged in warfare as an occupation. Diodorus Siculus (V, 28) is explicit:
"The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among them (the Gauls), namely that the souls of men are immortal and that after a period of years they live again, since the soul enters another body. "

and a number of the other authors say, or allude, to the same. Caesar cites the idea's practicality:
"A belief they particularly wish to inculcate is that the soul does not perish, but after death passes from one person to another. This they think is the greatest incentive to bravery, if fear of death is thereby minimised."
The Wikipedia entry for Pythagoreanism contains: "After attacks on the Pythagorean meeting-places at Croton, the movement dispersed, but regrouped in Tarentum". The latter is the Romanized name of Taras and Celtic warriors took part in its defence under Pyrrhus.

I think it most likely that the druids adopted a supervisory position over the local religions and priesthoods that they encountered in their migrations. Offering military support and negotiations between rival chiefs of tribes, they engaged in a sort of religious tolerance over indigenous beliefs as this was the best way to gain full support of the people. Celticists have long been puzzled by the great number of Celtic names given in later religious inscriptions where the deity had gained an identity to the Roman gods because of Augustus' formalization of the Roman religion and its economic value to its priests where greater income could be derived from supporting the more important deities. The indigenous deities which were borrowed, kept the support of the locals in  religious matters. One explanation given for all of these different names for the same Roman god is that each of the Celtic deities represented a different aspect of the god. However, in many cases, the different names are just too numerous for this to be the solution. Instead, I maintain that each name is derived from an indigenous deity and that these deities are connected through one of Joseph Campbell's "mythogenic zones". Supporting this idea is Euan MacKie's observation of stone alignments to the "quarter days" which became the later Celtic festivals. These alignments are very ancient, dating long before the emergence of Celtic culture.

Tomorrow, we will start to look at the elements of the Mystery religions adapted by the Celts and their own receptors which made such syncretism possible. The first subject being the Dionysian/Celtic ivy scroll.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Michel Prieur 1955 – 2014

It is with great sadness that I have just learned of the recent, and untimely passing of the eminent French numismatist, Michel Prieur, the founder and president of Cgb.fr. He was one of the first coin dealers to keep a web-archive of his stock and auction catalogues and he had even offered, at his own expense, to make the French national collection of coins available on the Internet for anyone to see and study (his offer was declined).

His passing is a great loss, not only for his family, friends, and the subject of numismatics, but also for France.

Cgb.fr has published this tribute: Michel Prieur nous a quittés

Friday, 21 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part five

 Salvator Rosa, 1662
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
I was married to an exceptional poet for twenty years so, like Pythagoras, I have also travelled to the Underworld and saw, there, the tortured souls of poets. Anyone can do this -- of course, it helps a lot if you are an introvert and understand metaphor and something of either Eastern or shamanistic religions. Being acquainted with quantum physics can also help. Failing all of that, get yourself a good depth psychologist to act as your ψυχοπομπός. Going to the Underworld is one thing -- returning from it in this life is something else.

In writing about the druids, about sixty percent of the classical authors who mention them, refer to to their sharing, with the Pythagoreans, a belief in the transmigration of souls (metempsychosis). I give the link to the Catholic encyclopedia rather than Wikipedia mainly because the latter associates this with reincarnation. In matters of non-Catholic religious information, the Catholic encyclopaedia is more reliable and impartial than many might think -- perhaps due to Jesuit scholarship.

There are more connections between druidism and the spectrum of Greek belief from Dionysian, through Orphic to Pythagorean, and it surprises me that more is not written about it. Perhaps many take such Classical connections between Pythagoras and the druids with a grain of salt, and do not look any further -- but prejudice makes for bad history. It is known that Pythagoras did not allow his teachings to be written down. Caesar (VI,14), speaking of the druidic schools says:
"The students reportedly learn a great number of verses by heart, and for this reason many remain under instruction for twenty years. They regard it as contrary to their religious beliefs to commit their teachings to writing..."
and he then attempts (unsuccessfully) to explain the taboo. We can forgive Caesar as the internal workings of all mystery cults were usually kept to themselves -- most of what we have about them coming from Christian apologists.

Writing poetry is one way to reach into the unconscious levels that appear to be below the dream state. We cannot go deeper than this level as we will part company, not only with language but also with mental imagery. Discussing this problem with C. G. Jung, Wolfgang Pauli (Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche, section 439, n.), concluded:
“It is undeniable that the development of  ‘microphysics’ has brought the way in which nature is described in this science very much closer to that of the newer psychology; but whereas the former, on account of the basic ‘complementarity’ situation, is faced with the impossibility of eliminating the effects of the observer by determinable correctives, and has therefore to abandon in principle any objective understanding of physical phenomena, the latter can supplement the purely subjective psychology of consciousness by postulating the existence of an unconscious that possesses a large measure of objective reality”
I find it paradoxical to the point of irony that a classic extravert with a strong materialist leaning -- the very sort that we find in modern skeptics who frequently use the word "unscientific" are thus further away from objectivism than the average person. A strongly expressed extravert never looks inward (consciously). The compensatory nature of the unconscious, though, means that whenever such a person attempts to judge someone, they merely project their own unconscious states on to that person and they are unable to see themselves as its source. Taken to its extreme, we find the psychopath who cannot really see anyone as anything other than as a projection of their own thoughts (total absence of empathy). Of course, while all psychopaths are extraverts, few extraverts are psychopaths, and extreme introversion also has its own set of problems -- "well-balanced" is a wise term, and most people will fall into this category whether extravert or introvert.

Contacting relatively upper levels of the unconscious where communication of some sort is possible, poetry can act like the shaman's drum or the eastern mantra, and this is often quite a surprise to the poet when their use of archetypes and mythological imagery is pointed out to them. It works best in either highly rigid poetic forms like the sestina, or in free, but obsessive verse  -- the links go to my late wife's (Carin Perron) poems. 

In looking for an actually explained source of the Pythagorean/druidic syncretism from the Classical authors, we find only one, and that is Hippolytus (Pseudo Origen), Philosophumena or Omnium Haeresium Refutatio (Refutation of All Heresies) I, 25 (3rd cent AD):
"Among the Celts the Druids delved deeply into the Pythagorean philosophy, inspired to this pursuit by Zamolxis, a Thracian slave of Pythagoras. Following Pythagoras' death he went there and initiated this philosophy among them. The Celts consider them prophets able to read the future because they predict certain events from computations and calculations using Pythagorean techniques. I shall not pass over in silence the methods of this same technique since some people have even presumed to introduce heresies from these people. The Druids also make use of magic."
The degree of accuracy of this account, and whether Zalmoxis was as described, was real with an assumed name or a deity, or a conflation of the two with the real slave being of a different name is debateable. I think, though, that if the story is true to any degree at all,  Pythagoreanism would have been communicated to the Celts in northern Italy rather than in Gaul. The time might even be right (later Golasecca culture).

Other classical authors can also be a bit of a minefield to navigate through -- I think it is possible that the elder Pliny, in his association between druids and the oak might have encountered some syncretism between the ideas about druids and Zeus Dodona who is depicted wearing an oak wreath on this coin of Pyrrhus. That Pyrrhus used Celtic troops in Italy is also rather interesting. By the way, if you like living, I would strongly suggest that you do not follow Pliny's medical advice either!

After writing about a thousand words, I think this is a good point to pause, so have a great weekend and I will be back with more about the ancient druids on Monday.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part four

The jigsaw puzzle as an analogy to

cultural receptors: while green and
orange share no direct receptor, they
are locked together by the other colours
which do share direct receptors.
In order to explain certain aspects of syncretism, I have adapted the idea of receptors from biochemistry, calling them "cultural receptors". This sort of borrowing is used in other subjects, for example, Michael Odhiambo uses the model for human rights studies in: Dialogue in the Receptor Approach to human rights model: some lessons from Theatre for Development (TfD) .

Aaron Lynch gives seven patterns of meme transmission, or "thought contagion", and one of these is:
"Cognitive: ideas perceived as cogent by most in the population who encounter them. Cognitively transmitted memes depend heavily on a cluster of other ideas and cognitive traits already widely held in the population, and thus usually spread more passively than other forms of meme transmission. Memes spread in cognitive transmission do not count as self-replicating."
This structure exposes a fallacy in the Celtoskepticism: in my jigsaw analogy,  green and orange provide no proofs of each other in their direct relationship, while the other two colours lock them together. By selecting only certain aspects, there is no jigsaw puzzle. Philosophically, green and orange fail in any attempt at "chain reasoning" which demands that green must prove orange (or vice versa), but by using Peirce's "cable reasoning", we can see the presence of other receptors (colour pieces) which tie them together with great certainty.

But it goes beyond this: the jigsaw puzzle diagram is not complete (it has no corners). We might observe that because of the shape of the pieces, together, it is an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. Anyone who does jigsaw puzzles makes great use of the corner pieces to fix the puzzle. The recent studies of transdisciplinarity reveal that such corner pieces do not exist in the real world, and furthermore, even if we build an accurate transdisciplinary model that is completely workable, different models can also be built which can involve some other pieces absent from the first model. Transdisciplinarity posits the existence of infinite realities connected by the included middle contrary to classical logic which uses the excluded middle and reserves the former as a fallacy in all cases. Quantum physics has shown the validity of the transdisciplinarity model especially in the wave/particle duality.

Lorentz transform of world line
User:Cyp
Besides using the receptor model and transdisciplinarity in our look at syncretism, we also have to include the analogy of spacetime rather than space (geographical distance) and time (seriation) separately. As it is a bit long for a caption, follow the link for the explanation and history of the animated diagram to the left, or look at the Wikipedia entry for the Lorentz transformation. I use this diagram rather than the commoner image of earth within spacetime curvature to illustrate spacetime as it contains movement (and I like it).

In studying early Celtic art, it can be seen that a lot of the chronology is relative, rather than absolute. I was able to plot exact changes in the chronology of Coriosolite coin die designs because they are well-focused in space and time, but previous space/time confusions had not revealed the correct chronology because far too few factors were considered. When it came to the origins of certain design elements, the pattern was very different. The focus of design motifs brought me to Saarland, and to a time far earlier than the coins. In Saarland, these designs were part of the general evolution of the Rhineland, rather than the Champagne workshops and their changes were more rapid because of the size of the populations and the amount of communication and travel that transmitted change. In Armorica, where the Coriosolite tribe lived, such travel and communication was less frequent and much slower so things  changed slower as a result of this. It is a case of relative time. Similarly, if we look for a mythological element in Homer, we see that it contains less detail and elaboration than the same example in later classical collections. We might think the latter is due to later elaborations and a sort of Chinese whispers, whereby the story changes through various errors in transmission,  and that can happen, but the commonest reason is that as time progresses for  a culture, greater communication with more distant areas can happen and because of syncretistic changes in these areas, the stories become more elaborate quite naturally. As there are metaphors at play, and because different cultures pick the metaphors most relevant to themselves, we can actually get a more accurate picture of the psychic factors underlying the metaphors. We look for common denominators because mythology, really, is a primitive psychology and not a primitive history or a primitive science.

Now that we have all of the methodological ammunition that we need, tomorrow I will start to put it all together to cast some more light on the ancient Druids. We will discover that La Tène was more than just an art movement: the art was an expression of an important religious/social movement. It reflected the time and culture just as did the more modern Romantic art movement.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part three

Decorated stone at Newgrange, Co. Meath, Ireland.
Older than the pyramids, it figures in the later
Celtic sagas (as Brú na Bóinne).
photo: Johnbod
The adaptation of foreign cultural traits by any society can be short-lived or it can last for a very long time. Stories incorporating Newgrange were being written down about 2,500 years after the building of the monument and have remained popular more than a thousand years after that.

Mythology and religion retains details longer than any other agency of syncretism because their subjects are often core to the human psyche. Beliefs can contact levels of the unconscious deeper than that of the dream state, and because we cannot consciously understand their essence in full, they can often impart a numinous experience we rarely achieve by other means. Whenever a religion becomes extinct, it is almost always because it has been replaced by a new religion that has gained great popularity, or because the older religion has been actively suppressed. Such things do not happen rapidly and the oldest conflicts that humans experience have religion as their basis. This phenomenon is relatively modern, with the existence of prehistoric religious wars being highly debateable. Most often, in the ancient world, others religious beliefs were far more respected than they are today. The modern world has become so used to religious conflicts that many people abandon religion for that very reason.

Also harmful to religious belief is a shift away from the metaphors that characterized much ancient thought to a confusion with historicity. Vast numbers of people now require a belief in the literal truth of religious texts that their first authors were using as metaphor. Joseph Campbell said that people are killing each other over their choice of metaphor. In a real sense, we are devolving in that subject. Societies are shifting too far toward Logos and too far away from Mythos to maintain a balanced psychology. When nationalisms (which are also a strong force) enter the conflict, the decline accelerates.

An understanding of the above is essential for what comes next in this series.

Today's entry is short because of a couple of appointments -- much more tomorrow!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part two

Certosa situla, bronze, 5th cent. BC
Archaeological Museum, Bologna
You can read an awful lot of archaeological writing without encountering the word "syncretism", yet when you start to look at the subject from an archaeological viewpoint, all sorts of answers become available and you start wondering why no one has spotted them before. The subject is not without its traps and pitfalls, however. I can offer no no easy solution to avoid these problems, but there are a few common tendencies in the way that cultural and historical details can become conflated.

Most archaeologists are materialists, but they do not know it.  In common usage, a materialist is the person who is always buying stuff -- someone who seems to live for luxury and possessions. Tell an archaeology student that he or she is a materialist and just watch what happens. Philosophically, though, materialism is "the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications". Those whose personalities lead them in such a direction are most often Jungian extraverts and will virtually never use the phrase "psychic agency". They will frequently talk of trade as an agency of movement, or, if they are observant enough to see that this reason just does not hold up at all from the evidence that they have examined, they will say how it is not due to trade. As popular (mis)understanding of the materialist viewpoint is a conscious phenomenon, we can expect that the unconscious is going to attempt to counteract it, and this is going to manifest itself with neuroses to a greater or lesser degree. Such neuroses, if they become extreme enough, will start to take over the personality and prevent the victim from realizing their original potential.

Long ago, I was recataloging an important, specialist, private collection of Greek coins. It was about three time larger than the British Museum's holdings of similar material but only one series of its coins had been published. It had been collected by a professor of Classics and after his death had been inherited by his son who had decided to sell it. The collection was purchased by a retired archaeology professor who either thought, or was convinced to think, that it should be published in full. He had an arrangement with a museum to work on the collection and that it should be a temporary exhibit before the work began. I was called in to study the material and write it all up for publication. I met the archaeology professor at the museum gallery where the coins were displayed and mentioned to him that I was a collector. "Tch, tch, tch!" he said, wagging his finger at me. "Oh no", I thought, "One of them". I soon realized why a lot of the collection had not been published: a couple of the cities represented presented quite a few problems, and while I was able to die link quite a lot of issues, the actual order of these issues were more difficult to establish. The intellectual problem was not the the only trouble -- the museum really did not want to pay for much photography and appeared not to understand that die-linking is not going to be accepted as correct without photographic proof. As everything was taking longer, and as I had to earn money elsewhere (there was no grant offered), I could only work in it on a part time basis. Finally, the project was dropped and the reason just about floored me:
the finger wagging archaeology professor wanted to quickly break up the collection and sell it piece-meal at auction, hoping for a large profit by doing so. It would seem that a neurosis can manifest itself as hypocrisy. Two parts of his mind were fighting it out for dominance. The collection was never published and was split up.

Yesterday, I gave a couple of examples of syncretism whereby Dionysian beliefs came into an active relationship with other beliefs. The example of the changes to the Passover Sacrifice was an example of "negative syncretism". The great middle-eastern religions of today are beliefs based more on Logos  than Mythos. Imagine the two terms as poles where the Logos end is also characterized as "law", materialism, and extraversion, and the Mythos end is "free will", psyche, and introversion. Both individuals, and collectively, societies will fall somewhere on this spectrum. It would seem healthiest of all to be somewhere in the middle and this is where we see progress. If one end is expressed far too strongly, the neuroses become psychoses. The Gundestrup cauldron is an expression of the middle ground whereby Celtic and Dionysian beliefs have started to become syncretized.

Coin of Ariminum, Umbria, Italy
ca. 268-225 BC, showing Celtic warrior.
The coin from Ariminum, Umbria, to the left, shows potential influence from the warriors depicted on the situla above, and even the shield shape is very similar. Adding weight to the connection is the fact that both are from the same part of the world and that the time difference is not too extreme. I sometimes hear claims that some aspect of Celtic mythology has its origins in ancient Indian religious texts -- the problem, there, is that both distance and time differences are far too extreme to presume any  physical connection. Instead, we probably should be thinking more about psychological factors and the similarities between certain types of stimuli. Jung faced criticism about his mandela imagery in the unconscious because of such physical factors whereby the similarities between the inward- looking eastern religious practices (Mythos) were interpreted through a psyche too heavily influenced by physical (Logos) considerations.

The "procession plate" of the Gundestrup cauldron
The "procession plate" of the Gundestrup cauldron also shares some similarities with the above situla design in its line of warriors with shields and spears and its arrangement in registers. Yet, it is also filtered through the eyes of a Thracian native style artisan and combines both Dionysian and Celtic imagery. It seems not to have been considered that Thracian artists were about as mobile as any human being, and that northern Italy (especially under Etruscan patronage) was a Mecca  for artisans from various parts of the Mediterranean -- even as far east as the border of the Persian Empire. I see much Italian influence in how things are depicted on the cauldron and one of these influences is to be seen on this very plate with the shape of the situla in which the figure is being immersed (or extracted from). The shape of the situla is late Classical and can be compared to the situla in Boston by the Varrese Painter The overall iconography and various historical factors are enough for me to give a confident date estimate for the cauldron of 272-195 BC, with a terminus post quem of 280 BC. (Hooker, forthcoming).

David Rankin, in Celts and the Classical World, 1987, says "There seems to be a pale shadow of evidence in Diogenes Laertius (1.1) that Aristotle [384-322 BC] or some Peripatetic follower of his" spoke of the Druids -- given as an example in the text about philosophy having its origins "among the barbarians". So it is possible that Druids were first mentioned by history in the fourth century BC. This brings into question Caesar's statement (VI, 13):
"It is thought that the druidic system was invented in Britain and then imported into Gaul. There it is that those wishing to make a more detailed study of it generally go to learn."
I think it possible that Caesar was suffering from the effects of cultural lag, and that while druidism had started to decline, somewhat, in Gaul in his time, it held a greater sway in Britain. Caesar's troops faced Celtic chariots in Britain, but not in Gaul where they had long been replaced by regular cavalry. Seeing anything 'behind the times" in one one location can easily give the impression that it is native to that area. It is reasonable to think that Gauls might have gone to Britain to study a "purer form" of druidism than existed in Gaul at the time.

More about syncretism tomorrow.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part one

Imaginative illustration of 'An
Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit' from
"The Costume of the Original
Inhabitants of the British Islands"
by S.R. Meyrick and C.H. Smith, 1815
Rather than just presenting an abridgement of what anyone can find on the web about the ancient Druids, I have decided to present my own hypothesis using classical sources and what little archaeological evidence we have. However, some background information is essential because most definitions focus on them being priests of a Celtic religion and, as the evidence is limited, there is much speculation which is not always labelled as such. I have picked two sources for this introduction, the first being the entry for Druidism in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which I feel is about as good a general introduction as it gets, especially in the etymology of the word. My second choice is a personal favorite of mine and although some Celticists do not agree with it fully, even they think that it is worthy of including in their compilations of the material. It is Sean B. Dunham's Caesar's perception of Gallic social structures in B. Arnold and D. B. Gibson (eds) Celtic Chiefdom, Celtic State: The evolution of Complex Social Systems in Prehistoric Europe, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 110-15 and its author has made it available for free download on academia.edu. I also highly recommend including the entire book in your library.

Sad to say, I must start with what has been lost: Posidonius the Stoic (sometimes given as Poseidonius) was not only one of the greatest minds of his day, but it is generally believed that he was an important uncredited source for later authors writing about the Druids. Only fragments of his work has been recorded and none of it explicitly mentions Druids. He did write about the Celts, however, and there is one passage in Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists Book 4,36. which contains a clue that many will miss:
"The Celts place food before their guests, putting grass for their seats, and they serve it up on wooden tables raised a very little above the ground; and their food consists of a few loaves, and a good deal of meat brought up floating in water, and roasted on the coals or on spits."
In the above passage, we might be reminded of the fate of the first-born Dionysos: having been chopped to pieces by the Titans after he took took the form of a bull, Dionysos was boiled in a cauldron as a prelude to being placed on spits, roasted and eaten. Zeus managed to rescue the heart and from this he made a potion that he gave to the moon-goddess Semele. This made her pregnant and she gave birth to the second-born Dionysos. This time, he was the God of the Vine. In his previous form as Zagreus, he was a much earlier deity: a lord of the animals, the master of the hunt. We see the mythological change of theme from hunter to agriculturist.

The slaying of Dionysos in his bull form by the Titans
(Gundestrup Cauldron)
The Gundestrup cauldron blends Dionysian and Celtic iconography in an example of Thracian native style silver, and this plate appears to show a triple depiction of the slaying of  Dionysos Zagreus by the Titans. Note the presence of other animals and the Dionysian ivy-scroll. Triplism is a distinct feature of early Celtic art and later Celtic iconography. On the round base plate of the cauldron we also see a sacrificed bull.

Dionysianism, through various syncretisms, had its elements absorbed into other beliefs -- we can track it through Orphism and Pythagoreanism (Pythagoras had been an Orphic). We can also see its evidence in less obvious religious beliefs -- even Christianity (Robert M. Price, Deconstructing Jesus, Amherst, New York, 2000, p.234.):
“Thus in the Gospel of John Jesus repeats the water-to-wine miracle of Dionysos (2: 1-11) and describes himself, like Dionysus, as the life-giving grapevine (15: 1-10). (Of course the Synoptics bear many of the same traces of Dionysus influence: Jesus’ blood is wine, his flesh bread, since he is a Dionysian corn king.)”
Of course, certain religious texts include resistance to Dionysian influence. In Judaism we see this creep into the directions for the Passover Sacrifice: there are two versions of the Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament. The earliest, dating to the seventh century B.C. is in Deuteronomy XVI:

2. Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the LORD thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the LORD shall choose to place his name there.


3. Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life.


4. And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coast seven days; neither shall there any thing of the flesh, which thou sacrificedst the first day at even, remain all night until the morning. 


5. Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee: 


6. But at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt.”

In about the middle of the next century there is this version in Exodus XII:


3. Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:

4. And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb.

5. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats:

6. And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.

7. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.

8. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

9. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof.

10. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire.

11. And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD's passover.”



In order to understand the importance of the differences between these two accounts let us create a scenario that would be allowed by the first and yet prohibited by the second. Let us assume that we take a bull, cut it into parts and place the parts in a cauldron. After boiling the flesh for a while we will remove them and then roast them. In other words, we will symbolically reenact the fate of Dionysos after he changed into a bull and was killed and devoured by the Titans. We could also reenact the ceremony of the women in the Dionysian cult and tear a beast into pieces and consume it raw.

The later version would not allow this: it could not be a bull, it has to be a lamb; we cannot cut it up for it has to be whole and complete; the meat cannot come into contact with water so we cannot boil it; we must make sure that if we do not eat all of it, then what is left must be burnt afterward. If we did not eat it all, perhaps we might leave the heart and Zeus could use this to affect the resurrection of Dionysos. Resurrection was not part of Judaism at that time and did not appear in Biblical texts until the Book of Daniel in the mid second century B.C. When one died, the soul died as well. The time of the writing of Exodus was the same time that the Dionysian cults were spreading throughout the Mediterranean.

Tomorrow should bring us down to Caesar's account of the Druids.