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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

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Issue 6

May 1997



  • Bob Trubshaw
    • Beyond Indiana Jones versus the Mother Goddess

    At the Edge aims to cover the broad territory where the disciplines of archaeology, folklore and mythology ‘converge’ on place-related topics. This is a wide-ranging scope in its own right. Why then should we be moving off into the apparently unrelated topics of sex and gender? Put simply, the answer is that those who are questioning how modern society constructs sex and gender are creating waves which ripple out into the comparative backwaters of, say, sacred landscapes and ‘earth mysteries’. However, so far as I am aware, little of the exciting and provocative thinking in gender issues has been surfacing in the more popular periodicals. This issue of At the Edge makes attempts to get behind the verbosity and highlight some of the ideas that are emerging.

    The deeply entrenched ideology of Western culture has created biased thinking at the deepest levels of anthropological and scientific theory and method. This legacy of ‘modernism’ is being challenged from two main directions: firstly, by postmodern critiques and, secondly, by feminism. There are some similarities between the two movements but few feminists are willing to label themselves postmodernists and, similarly, many who might be described as postmodernists are profoundly sceptical of recent feminist thinking.

    Full text of Beyond Indiana Jones versus the Mother Goddess

  • Lynn Meskell
    • Constructing sex and gender in archaeology

    In the past decade archaeologists have become increasingly interested in constructions of gender in past societies and have endeavoured to (re)construct the culturally specific meanings of those categories. Basically, archaeologists engage in a form of gender tourism with the past: I take this term to describe our contemporary excursions into gender constructions and experiences in the past. From this perspective archaeologists fulfil the role of tourist or voyeur, exploring distant cultures from which we are separated through time and space. We attempt to travel in unknown territories, exploring Other cultures and Other constructions of self trying to envisage ourselves in someone else’s body, situated in a foreign society, performing their tasks and their rituals. Despite all attempts, our ventures at present represent fairly superficial excursions. One particularly popular destination is the Aegean, because its rich suite of iconographic material has suggested to generations of scholars the possibility that a very different set of gender relations was operative. I would like to firstly address current developments in feminist and masculinist theory and their relationship to archaeology. I will then examine more closely the Aegean to see how sex and gender have been constructed by archaeologists in the twentieth century and how this relates to current ideas in feminist theory.

  • Hilda Davidson
    • Women on the Rampage

    In the early years of the twentieth century, Sir Benjamin Stone published several volumes of splendid photographs which he called Records of National Life and History, and the first of these was devoted to festivals, ceremonies and customs. It contains pictures of little girls in clean pinafores, small boys immaculately turned out, dignified bearded gentlemen in bowler hats and stately old ladies in bonnets, with one or two quaint but restrained local characters. These are seen receiving gifts from charities, celebrating May Day, clipping the church at Painswick, or gathering for the Hallaton Hare Pie festival. Here we have folklore as approved by the establishment, and the fact that the subjects had to remain motionless while the slow process of early photography went on adds to the atmosphere of picturesque respectability.

    However, we know that popular customs were not all like that, even in Sir Benjamin’s time. There are many accounts of wild activities and outbursts of rioting by young men - and sometimes older ones - bonding together to take part in individual trials of strength, contests between neighbouring groups, or attempts to get money for a party or drinking bout. While delighting the folklorist, such customs were less welcome to residents at the receiving end, whose fences were smashed, shop windows broken, or gardens vandalised; they were usually sternly denounced in the local press, declared to encourage hooliganism and drunkenness, and eventually banned by the local authorities.

  • Susan Evasdaughter
    • A sacred island - a feminist perspective on bronze age Crete.

    Although Classical Greece is widely accepted as the cradle of European civilisation, the Arian settlers who were to become the Greeks were barbarians when they invaded the Aegean. Their systems of learning were appropriated from the sophisticated indigenous tribes whom they subjugated. The ideological struggle that accompanied the overshadowing of these earlier cultures is recorded in the Greek myths and the struggle for power between Zeus and the Great Goddess in the form of Hera. Much of the action of these epic tales of manly daring-do takes place on Crete because the invaders found the islanders’ commitment to their deity so difficult to subdue. Rodney Castleden describes the early civilisation of Crete as an example of one of the occasions when ‘the energies of that ocean [of human culture] have gathered together into towering waves of achievement.’

    The ‘waves of achievement’ of the bronze age Cretans towered and glittered for two millennia, from around 3000 to 1100 BC. It was from this advanced culture that the Greeks derived the political, philosophical, legal, mathematical, medical and scientific systems that they are credited with inventing.

    As prehistoric Aegean specialist George Thomson put it, ‘Behind the work of the humane poets who composed the Iliad and Odyssey lies an age of brutality and violence, in which the bold pioneers of private property had ransacked the opulent, heratic (sacred), sophisticated civilisation of the Minoan matriarchate.’

    See also Susan Evasdaughter's book Crete Reclaimed: a feminist exploration of bronze age Crete

  • Bob Trubshaw
    • Weaving the world

    For the Kogi the ceremonial house is not the only microcosmic image. So too is the loom. In Kogi belief, the Earth is a vast loom on which the Sun weaves two pieces of cloth a year. The four corners of the square of cloth represent the four Columbian cities at the corners of the Sierra Navada de Santa Maria, and the crossing point of the two diagonals at the centre represents the holy mountains at the centre. The top and bottom bars of the loom represent the passage of the Sun through the sky at the Solstices.

  • Thorskegga Thorn
    • Spinning in myths and folktales

    The folk heritage of spinning has been ignored, misrepresented and misunderstood by historians and folklorists alike. This is a terrible shame as spinning was hailed as the most worthy of a woman’s tasks up until the Industrial Revolution. The craft has been lost in obscurity and has no apparent relevance to the modern world. Maybe as a pagan social historian and spinner I can bring this noble craft back into the light.

  • Jeremy Harte
    • Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
      An 'engendered' look at witches and their familiars

    It was a dark and stormy night. A man was running home through the rain; he threw himself through the door of the house and slammed it behind him. His wife jumped up, surprised, and even their old tom cat looked up curiously from beside the fire. Asked what was wrong, the man came out with a queer story. As he had been walking along the lonely wet road homewards, he came across a long line of cats, like a procession – and as he said this, their own cat paced towards him. This procession seemed to be a funeral, since there were four cats at the front carrying a coffin draped in black – and here their own cat fixed his deep green eyes, fascinated, on the speaker. On top of the coffin there was a little cushion, and on that cushion a crown . . . and at this, their own cat swelled up to twice his size and hissed out the words ‘So! Old Tom’s dead and I’m King of the Cats!’ And he turned round and bolted up the chimney before either of them could stop him.

    ‘It’s nature breaks through the eyes of a cat’, say the Irish. ’Someways they would put a dread on you. What company do they keep? When the moon is riding high and the wind tearing the trees, and the shadows black with cold, who is it calls them from the hearth? Tell me that’. Cats pass unchanged from the cold, wet wild into the home, and at a time of their own choosing go out again. There is no other animal, wild or tame, that behaves like this, which is why folklore motif B342 is always told as King of the Cats. It is a simple enough drama, with three actors, and a parallelism of plot. First the man speaks, and the cat is surprised: then the cat speaks, and the humans are surprised. The man goes in from the lonely road to the warm hearthside; then the cat goes out from the house to the wild. And the wife sits by the fire, listening to them both, passive and domestic.

    But what of women who did not stay at home? Might they not, like cats, slip out unseen at night to meet strange company in the woods and fields? Lady Sybil of Bernshaw Tower certainly did. She was a woman of independent spirit; she rejected all advances from men, but the Devil made her a better offer and she sold her soul to him. After that she spent her days wandering among the crags and cliffs that rise beyond Burnley, and her nights dancing with the Lancashire witches. Lord William of Hapton Tower was the most persistent of her suitors, and at length his moment came, for he came across Sybil when she was in the form of a doe and he hunted her down with his dogs until she was compelled to change back to human form and agree to be his bride. The marriage was not a success. Within the year Lady Sybil was out again at nights, this time in the form of a white cat. She and her unholy sisters enjoyed themselves hugely spoiling all the corn of the neighbourhood, but when they were at Cliviger Mill they kicked up such a racket that the miller’s boy woke up, stumbled into the building knife in hand, and hacked away at the fleeing animals. Next morning Lady Sybil lay indisposed in bed, her right arm thrust firmly under the bedclothes, but the miller’s boy was angrily knocking at her husband’s door, and in his bag he carried a lady’s severed hand.

    Full text of Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?

  • ABSTRACTS - summaries of articles in academic journals, newspapers, etc.
    • Lynn Webster Wilde CELTIC WOMEN IN LEGEND, MYTH AND HISTORY (Blandford 1997)
    • Eric Hirsch and Michael O'Hanlon (eds) THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF LANDSCAPE: Perspectives on Place and Space (Clarendon 1996)
    • BEOWULF Read in Anglo-Saxon by Trevor Eaton (2 CD set, Pavilion Records 1997)
    • Eric Ratcliffe STRANGE FURLONGS (Astrapost 1996)
    • EARTHED No.1

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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /
Created February 1998; updated November 2008