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Sacred Places: Prehistory and popular imagination
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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw / bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk
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Issue 1

March 1996


Dr Hilda Ellis Davidson Otherworld Cattle

Few folklorists and or those interested in early religion pay much serious attention to the cow. This is a pity, since the symbol of cattle and of the milk they provide has been enormously important in the past, particularly in the cults of goddesses. In Ancient Egypt the first sacred cows were the wild ones in the Delta marshes, a symbol of abundant life and regarded as creatures of the Otherworld. Later the sky itself was depicted as a great cow, her belly speckled with stars, identified with the goddess Hathor, who each dawn gave birth to the sun, the young bull-calf. By the eleventh dynasty cows with a special patterned hide were regarded as incarnations of Hathor, and at Memphis there was a special white cow which represented her. The milk of the cows kept in Hathor's temple was a link between the Pharaohs and the gods, for royal babies were fed on it, and it was Hathor 's milk which was said to restore the dead Pharaoh to new life in the Otherworld. Again in Mesopotamia the powerful goddess Nimhursag presided over a temple dairy, providing milk for royal children.


Alby Stone The Perilous Bridge

The very nature of a bridge dictates its symbolic use. It is a structure that joins two otherwise separate pieces of land, yet at the same time enhances their separateness. One can travel across it, from one land mass to another, but while on it the traveller is neither in one place nor the other. A bridge is a quintessentially liminal thing, and it shares those qualities that characterise other things that delimit one state from another - doors, boundaries, the turning point of one day or year to the next - by being dangerous, enchanted, pregnant with a double-edged potential. In his poem The Bridge, H.W. Longfellow marries the liminal object with a kindred point in time:

I stood upon the bridge at midnight,
As the clocks were striking the hour.


Anthony Weir Time & Place - the TV of our minds

Place is different to different people living at the same time: to the farmer, the town-dweller, the traveller, the archaeologist, the thief, the geologist, the gypsy, the poet, the painter. . . As to how place was perceived by different people in different places in different times, we can hardly guess.

Time - in the sense of linear, past/future, primitive/progressive time - is a fiction. Time is very much bound up with the sense of self, and hence with ego. Place is very much bound up with property, inheritance and money on the one hand, and with collectivity or connection on the other.

Our modern sense of time and place together are also bound up with nationalisms - whether the national socialism of 'Land and Blood', the right-wing romanticism of Arthurian, 'Celtic' Albion, or the cosy, folksy National Trust sense of 'heritage' (or, in France, the whole ethos contained in the word Patrimoine). It is the 'National' Trust, not The People's or Volks- Trust. This title says a lot about the generally-accepted concept of a unitary United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Time and place are unavoidably political.


Jeremy Harte Under the Greenwood Tree

They had real dungeons in the Middle Ages, and real dragons if rumour be true. They had knights in shining armour, too, and damsels in distress, wicked barons, wandering minstrels and holy hermits were not unknown. They did not have any psychiatrists, however, and so escaped being counselled on how to give up a fantasy world for real life - which is probably just as well, because the real life of mediaeval people was packed with the sort of figures who have been the stock-in-trade of fantasy writers ever since.

It is hardly surprising that subsequent generations have used the magic mirror of mediaevalism to conjure up visions of their own. Among the nine suspect views of the Middle Ages scheduled by Umberto Eco, the re-invention of romanticism finds an honourable place [1]. But is there a genuine history behind the Gothick mist? Or are we just using romance as a therapy for the unease we feel about breaking with the past? Without the repudiation of mediaeval Christendom, romantic or not, none of the liberties and conveniences of our secular civilisation would have had a chance to flourish. Each of us is a little like the young Byron, inhabiting comfortable apartments tacked onto a monastic ruin, and getting a perverse pleasure from limping about the haunted wing in fancy dress.


Frank Earp The Wise Men of Gotham

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, I must neds laughe in my selfe,
The wise men of Gotum are risen againe.
['Misogonus' 1560]

Indeed, the Wise Men of Gotham are risen again. The 'Gotham Tales' are a cycle of stories about feign madness. They first became associated with the village of Gotham (pron. 'goat ham') in Nottinghamshire around 1540. At this date a selected twenty of the tales first appeared in print. However, the true origin and antiquity of the whole cycle is something else. This article discusses two of the many mysteries that surround the topic - the location of the village of mad men (I prefer Fools) and the authorship of the first chap book, The merry tales of the mad men of Gotham. Let us begin with the printed text and work backwards.


R.A. Stevens Gotham, Sussex

Of course it might be questionable to lay claim to the 'original village of mad people' from Andrew Borde's Tales of the mad men of Gotham with several counties having villages with the same name. I believe the one in Nottinghamshire is the odds-on favourite. However, recently 'discovered' a place by this name in East Sussex I feel this county should lay claim to this scheme of feigning madness as an early tax-avoidance scheme.


Bob Trubshaw Exploring past and place

Few of today's career-conscious archeaologists would want to justify the theories and interpretations of, say, Glyn Daniels, still less more distant notables such as Gordon Childe. Even within single academic lifetimes it is possible to take disparate broad-views of the subject, as Colin Renfrew has happily shown. By the same criteria the 'fringe' contains a legacy that should largely be disregarded.

The non-academic research which, for want of a better label, surfaced under the epithet 'earth mysteries' may be considered as an essential antidote to the excessive scientism and hard-line 'rationalism' which pervaded academe during the 60s and 70s. The post-modernism of the 80s saw innovative, if somewhat arid, academic adventures into the preconceptions of prehistory, revealing poor theoretical underpinning. While the tools of science continue to illuminate once-inaccessible recesses of the archaeological record, in the 90s many alternative interpretations of the past have superceded simplistic understanding.


Eric Fitch Ancient Taplow

During the hot summer of 1995 an exciting discovery was made when the parched grass revealed the plan of a now-demolished church which once sat in close proximity to a pagan Anglo-Saxon burial mound at Taplow, Buckinghamshire. The observation was was made by David Went, of English Heritage, and with the help of an English Heritage inspector, David Stocker, they measured the parch marks. These revealed details that were not compatible with illustrations of the medieval church. What had showed up was indicative of an early Anglo-Saxon church, with small side chapels, or porticos) and a possible apse at the end of the chancel. These foundations could date from around 700, making it one of the earliest churches in the country.


PLUS:

ABSTRACTS

REVIEWS

  • Courtney Davis: THE BOOK OF CELTIC SAINTS
  • Mike Dixon-Kennedy: ARTHURAN MYTH AND LEGEND: An A to Z of people and places
  • Philip Heselton: EARTH MYSTYERIES
  • Philip Heselton: SECRET PLACES OF THE GODDESS
  • John Matthews: THE UNKNOWN ARTHUR
  • John Matthews and Michael J. Stead: KING ARTHUR'S BRITAIN
  • James Rattue: THE LIVING STREAM: Historical wells in historical context
  • Arhtur Versluis: NATIVE AMERICAN TRADITIONS


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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw / bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk
Created February 1998; updated November 2008