For teaching purposes only;
[ References for this review may be found at <Fell> ]
Yet another form of calendar site has come under investigation in recent years: the circles of standing stones that occur in large numbers in Europe [e,g., Fig. 80] and also span the entire continent of North America from New England to California. A variant form in America, especially in western Canada and the adjacent United States territories, such as Wyoming, is the stone circles with radial lines of boulder forming spokes to the outer rim, hence the name Medicine Wheel. In some cases it is believed that the spokes are oriented toward points on the horizon that were formerly the positions of the rising or setting of conspicuous stars, which could be used to mark the seasons. These star-rise and star-set positions can be calculated for particular epochs in the past, making use of the known equations that describe the motions of the earth's axis.
One of the best-known sites is Mystery Hill at North Salem, New Hampshire..... Apart from the numerous stone chambers on the site there is also a stone circle. The native forest has encroached upon the circle, like many others now becoming known,, but radial avenues have been cleared to permit visitors to sight the major standing stones from the central observation platform. As the diagram (Fig. 79) showed, there are five principal standing stones, four of which are still standing erect. The fifth has fallen over. One stone marks the meridian and lies due north of the central observation point. The other four mark the sunrise and sunset points on the horizon for the midsummer and midwinter solstices. On account of persistent distant cloudbanks on the horizon the actual moment of contact of the rim of the sun is often invisible for, as the moment when the ball of the sun is about to reach the marker stone, it vanishes into mist. However, about once every eight or ten years a totally clear sunset or sunrise can be expected, and on such an occasion the event is truly impressive. On the diagram (Fig. 79), in which Osborn Stone assisted by reading the exact azimuths from his transit telescope, the observed angles are those shown; their deviation from the theoretical calculated values is only of the order of minutes of arc. It is obvious that the site is an ancient astronomical observatory for the regulation of the calendar, whatever else it may have been. To judge by the modern solstice ceremonies of Amerindian tribes, one may assume that much religious import was also attributed to the celestial phenomena by the ancient peoples who would assemble at the site to participate. At Mystery Hill the major significance seems to have been the summer and winter solstices, and regulation of the calendar by the vernal and autumnal equinoxes does not seem to have been an important part of the purpose of the ritual.
There are also many sites, as yet little known or wholly unrecorded, where a dozen or so natural boulders form ring-shaped structures. They vary from small circles, such as one that occurs at Gungywamp near Groton, Connecticut, to rings of more massive boulders, up to 15 meters in diameter that would have involved considerable labor in assembling the giant stones in this manner. One photographed by Jerry McMillan in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California, is shown in the photograph in Fig. 79b & Fig 79c. An approximate plan of the thirteen stones forming it is seen in Fig. 78. These rings seem to have been places of assembly for religious purposes; whether they also served as astronomical observatories (as seems very probable) remains yet to be proven. Jerry McMillan and Christopher Caswell discovered and photographed old engraved markings on two of the stones; these have not yet been deciphered but they seem to record angles of sight.
Some of the smaller rings of stones that are found in the Sierras and in Montana do not seem to me to be calendar sites. They remind me of the old shielings of the Scottish Highlands. A shieling was a place on the open mountainside where the young women of a clan would gather in spring, when the herds ere in flow, to make cheeses and other milk products. They slept in the open, in shelters provided by such rings of stones, which remain today as witness to a way of life that has vanished from Scotland. It was still practiced a century ago, and when Fell was a student in Scotland in the 1930s he met aged women who had participated in the shieling and who had a stock of folklore to relate on the subject (The Devil himself being one of the personages liable to frequent the shielings, on the watch for any careless maiden who might not have said the necessary protetective charms).
Based on a translation of inscriptions in America, Fell (1982) attempts to provide an overview of American Bronze Age peoples' religion:
As no Norse inscriptions older than the Iron Age [had been deciphered before publication of... [Fell's 1982 book], King Woden-lithi's commentary on his gods is not only the first information we have had on the matter, but it is unique. The era in which he lived, calculated from the position of the vernal equinox on his zodiac as about 1700 BC, is regarded as early Bronze Age in Britain, but in Scandinavia, where metals were imported, the Neolithic continued longer, and Woden-lithi would be regarded as living in the transitional time between the end of the Stone Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age, a period, often called Chalcolithic, when copper was employed.
Archaeologists and mythologists have concluded from a study of the carvings left by northern European peoples that sun worship was the religion practiced at this transitional phase and that it continued well into the Bronze Age. Their inferences are totally confirmed by Woden-lithi's inscription.
"It is obvious that sun worship was the vogue, as the sun figure is placed at the center of Woden-lithi's sacred site, is drawn on a larger scale than the other figures, save only that of the moon goddess, and the lettering beside each of these deities is much larger than the other parts of the text (Please see Figs. 81, 82 & 83).
The great festivals of the Norman year in Woden-lithi's day were, as noted previously, those of Yule and of Eostre. At these times, as the inscription tells us, there was feasting and drinking, and men dressed up as comic figures called Yule-men. Their costume suggested the diagonals that mark the solstice and equinox lines on an azimuth plate recording the greatest and least excursions of the sun northward in the course of a year. Some of the actors wore horns, other had outsize rabbit or hare ears. Some were dressed as other animals, and some performed acrobatics. Thus, the mad March hare and the Easter Bunny of some Christian secular celebrations may be survivals from Woden-lithi's time, over 3,000 years ago.
If there was a lunar festival, whatever Woden-lithi may have said about that has not yet been recognized or deciphered.
"Other gods are mentioned, but they seem to have been relatively minor nature spirits. These latter are divided into two groups, the more important Aesir (also sky gods, but having roles to play on earth and in the thinking of the people), the less important Wanir or earth gods, and the enemies of the gods, the giants and monsters of the underworld (including the bed of the ocean). These lesser divinities match their more important later derivatives, the gods of the late Bronze Age and subsequent periods.
A list of the various divinities whose names have so far been deciphered (by Barry Fell) on Woden-lithi's inscribed rock platform is shown in Fig. 84.
The custom of having clowns, and in particular those buffoons that the inscriptions at the Peterborough site call Yule-men (see Fig. 85) may have originated in Spain, for several sites are known in that country where images occur of humans dressed in this manner. The lowermost figure on the right [of Fig. 85] depicts a women dressed as a Yule clown, a feature not found at Woden-lithi's site; the Spanish Yule-lady shown here is from the Cueva de los Letteras. The upper left figure is lettered in Tifinag, and announces himself as a Y-L M-N, one of the Yule-men; it can be found about 5 feet northwest of the main sun-god figure. The other two Yule-men shown on the right side of the illustration are respectively from 14 feet and 16 feet northwest of the main sun-god figure. The two figures on the lower left lie about 50 feet southwest of the sun god. One is evidently a tumbler, the other a jackrabbit, or, in terms of his European origins, a hare. In Scandinavia to this day the equivalent of Santa Claus is called the Yule-man (though nowadays he wears Icelandic costume, as does our own American Santa). The Scandinavian Yule-man also has a troop of Jule-nisser (Yule Dwarves) who accompany him. The hare seems to have vanished from the midwinter festival of modern times, and remains with us in the guise of the Easter Rabbit who now brings the Easter eggs, another survival of old Norsemen pagan customs.
There are other links with ancient Spain, though not at Woden-lithi's site, which is predominantly Scandinavian. Fig. 86 ....[and other examples: Fell, 1982] show sculptures of animals that have been found in parts of New England where the stone chambers occurs. The bison (Fig. 86) is from Lawrence, in the valley of the Merrimack River in Massachusetts. It recalls the numerous Iberian sculptures, often crude as in this case, of bulls." [A boar and a recumbent beast, apparently a bull (Fell 1982)] were both discovered in central Vermont by John Williams and me while we were investigating the chambers at South Woodstock. They too recall the ancient Spanish sculptures.
The carvings in stone in northern Portugal also include numerous examples of animals, so much so that Professor Santos Junior, President of the Anthropological Society of Portugal (Sociedade de Antropologia e Etnologia de Portugal), has inferred that a special zoolatry (religious worship of animals) too place there. One of the examples he found was attached to a stone tablet carrying an inscription, which he sent to me. Like others from the region, where Basque place names occur, the inscription proved to be written in the ancient Basque tongue, using the ancient Basque syllabary (Fig. 87). The inscription disclosed that it was a dedication to the Laminak, subterranean monsters that are still the object of superstitious dread among the Basque country people of today.
It is relevant to state here that when Basque and other Spanish scholars sent these undeciphered inscriptions to me, nothing was known in Spain or Portugal as to the language of the writing. The solution (Fig 89 & Fig 90) proved to be one that depended wholly on the fact that the Cree, the Ojibway, and some other Amerindian tribes have preserved this same syllabary today, and still use it in their letters, their newspapers, and other contexts. It is mistakenly attributed to the missionary James Evans, a Welshman who is supposed to have "invented" the script in 1841. What Evans really did, as Fell had noted in Saga America, was to preserve and adopt the writing system that he found already in use among his flock. For this he deserves great credit, but it is wrong to say he invented the syllabary. The system of writing goes back far beyond the earliest Roman inscriptions in Spain and Portugal. It continued in use among Basques until some time in the early Middle Ages. The last known example of its use is on a tablet now held in the San Telmo Museum (Fig 89 & Fig 90). Using the Cree syllabary as a guide (Fig. 88), Fell transliterated the signs into the phonetic equivalents in Latin script, and then recognized the language as Basque. Its translation appeared to be that shown in the illustrations, and Fell submitted his decipherment of the tablets to Dr. Imanol Agiŕe, the Basque etymologist and epigrapher. he confirmed the decipherment and provided a modern Basque rendering of the same text. (This, of course, is in marked contrast to the views of those archaeologists who state that the Basque inscriptions found in America are marks made by roots or by plowshares. For the views of linguistic scholars on the one hand, and archaeologists on the other, reference may be made to volume 9 of the Epigraphic Society's Occasional Publications, entitled Epigraphy Confrontation in America ). A possible means of Iberian influence on the Norsemen settlements in Canada may have been the Algonquians. For, as an inscription cut on Woden-lithi's site shows, the actions of the Norsemen colonists were of interest to the Algonquians, and an inscription in a language similar to Ojibwa, using the Basque (and therefore the Cree-Ojibwa) syllabary (see Table 3), makes reference to Woden-lithi's departure by ship. As already noted, Woden-lithi's relations with the Algonquians appear to have been cordial, and he refers as a "foreign-friend" (Fig. 20 )to one whom he has carved.
The beliefs and practices referred to in this [section], worship of the sun and moon and worship of animals, appear all to derive from the Stone Ages and were doubtless a direct carryover from the late Neolithic.
But the Indo-European farmers who occupied Scandinavia toward the close of the Stone Age, and who are believed by Scandinavian archaeologists to be the direct ancestors of Bronze Age peoples in Scandinavia, were practical country people who perceived the sun as a supreme deity on whom the fertility of their crops depended, since only by planting seed at times determined by the position of the sun in the constellations could they be assured of success in reaping a harvest." [It is of interest that Fell (1982) does not indicate farming practices among the Norsemen colonists in America. The evolution of observatories in their culture in Scandinavia might have been related to farming, but such observatories also fulfilled other functions, such as when good sailing seasons are available, etc.].
For their more personal needs they apparently evolved a whole pantheon of lesser deities. As the Bronze Age progressed, these lesser gods gradually assumed the role of major gods, and eventually the sun and the moon and the rest of nature were assigned by the priests to the lesser roles of servants of the new gods. For the Norsemen peoples the leading members of the new pantheon were all sky gods. The new religion had already developed clearly defined roles for these gods, and in that capacity they accompanied Woden-lithi to America, as his presiding patrons.
The Gods Go West-- Woden and Lug
Based on a translation of inscriptions in America, Fell (1982) proposes a hypothetical scenario of further migrations by Bronze Age peoples on the American continent:
Although both the ancient peoples of Ireland and the Norsemen Teutons venerated the sun god above all others during the Bronze Age, the former calling him by the name Bel or Grian, the latter Sol or Sunu, each of these peoples recognized a host of lesser gods. These deities seem to have originated as spirits of nature, each in charge of particular natural manifestations, and later some of them were elevated to become major gods.
Thus Lug to the ancient Irish was a god of light, who repelled the forces of darkness with his mighty spear. The Norsemen people apparently assigned much the same characteristics to Woden or Odin, who also owned a mighty spear and dealt destruction to the enemies of gods and men. Both ancient Irish and Norse-speaking people recognized a sky god who was named for thunder: Taranis in ancient Irish, Thunor or Thor in Norse. Both had divinities in charge of war, of music, of writing skills and magic, and, especially, fertility, both male and female.
In America something happened that did not and could not happen in Europe. Relatively isolated and defenseless settlements of Irish and Norsemen Teutons came into accidental and basically friendly contact. Inevitably there were intermarriages, and each side imparted its ideas to the other. Thus arose a peculiarly American blending of European concepts, which later permeated Amerindian thinking, as intermarriages became more extensive.
When the people from Ireland and Scandinavia crossed the Atlantic to settle in America they brought their gods with them. In the northeastern settlements, where native rock abounded, they built religious centers in the megalithic style. Some of the chambers still carry ogam inscriptions indicating the name of the god or goddess of the dedication (.....see Fig. 168). In most cases the original inscriptions are now unreadable or totally effaced by time and weather. As centuries went by, and the Ancient Irish people or their Creole descendants dispersed across the continent, their concepts changed with the changing environment. In the Northeast the mother goddess was conceived as a female figure resembling the Punic Tanith, also as a nude image. On the prairies the mother goddess is represented as an Amerindian woman who’s fringed clothes spell out in ogam her name and titles. Where there were no rocks, no stone chambers could be built, and they and the other megalithic structures all but vanish as we pass beyond the Great Lakes.
Chief of the Ancient Irish gods was Lug, god of the sky and of light, and creator of the universe. His emblems are his spear and his slingshot. With the latter he once destroyed a one-eyed monster named Balar, who, with his sorcerer attendants the Fir-bolg, had gained the mastery of Ireland. Balar is depicted in an unlettered inscription on the Milk River, near Writing-on-Stone, Alberta. He is shown as having one leg and one arm, held aloft over his gigantic eye, which could kill hundreds merely by its glance. In this pictograph, Fig. 93, Lug has just loosed the thong of his slingshot and the monster is about to bite the dust. Another and evidently much later depiction of Lug is that in Fig. 92, where his name is given in Norse runes, one of many examples we now have of Norsemen influence on the western Irish in North America. Presumably the Norsemen came down from Hudson Bay to enter the prairie lands. In this petroglyph Lug is shown holding his magic spear, by means of which he defeats the forces of darkness each year, to usher in the returning spring. The last-mentioned petroglyph occurs on cliffs at Castle Gardens in Wyoming, and at the same site another Ancient Irish god is identified by his name written in Norse runes. This is Mabona (or Mabo), the Irish Apollo, god of music and of sports and the presiding divinity in charge of male fertility. In this context his symbol is the phallus, shown in the petroglyph on the rock above him.
The Punic traders of Iberia brought to America the coinage of Carthage and other Semitic cities, and these coins often depict a horse (the emblem of Carthage), or just its head and neck, or a Pegasus with wings but without the rest of the animal's body. Since there were no horses in the Americas at that epoch, the Ancient Irish had vague and strange ideas as to what kind of animal it might be, apparently able to fly like a bird, yet resembling a deer in other respects. They sometimes carved representation of their gods or heroes riding on this magic animal of the skies," and often birds' feet replace the hoofs. "The body may resemble a boat, while the mane and tail provide the fringe ogam required to give a title to the composition. In this respect the American Irish copied exactly the conventions of the minters of Spain, forming the word C-B-L or G-B-L (for capull, horse), and in the case of a Pegasus, adding the suffix -n (ean, meaning "flying"). Some of these flying heroes mounted on Pegasus-back may be intended for Norsemen Valkyries, other have the name Mabona or Mabo-Mabona incorporated in the ogam of the tail.
The god of knowledge, especially astronomy, astrology, and occult sciences, and of writing skills, was Ogmios. He is always represented as having a face like the sun, and sometimes he carries rods that spell G-M, the consonants of the word ogam.
In later centuries, long after the time of Woden-lithi and his colonists, the descendants of the Norsemen settlers began to migrate westward, to reach the Great Plains and, ultimately the West Coast from British Columbia southward to an undetermined distance. They also encountered other Amerindian tribes, especially the many Dakota tribes, usually now referred to as Sioux. With the passage of time these communities all blended, and so a part of the Norsemen heritage was introduced into the Amerindian tradition.
While these events were occurring, a similar westward migration took place among the Irishiberian (noted as Celtiberian) colonists who had originally occupied much of New England and also part of the southeastern states. These ancient people from Ireland likewise reached the Plains, and they too blended with the Sioux tribes and the Shoshone. They also had a predominant influence in forming the Takhelne people of British Columbia. These people from Ireland spread southward along the Pacific coast, through Oregon and much of California, where their ogam inscriptions are often to be found in excellent states of preservation.
Inevitably the two religious traditions, Norse on the one hand, Ancient Irish on the other, both of them expressions of the original Indo-European pantheon, blended to produce a composite mythology. Thus we find Norsemen heroes depicted in what appear to be Ancient Irish roles and vice versa. These blended traditions persisted into modern times, and there were still artists painting ogam texts beneath Norsemen mythological subjects as late as the first decades of the nineteenth century.
The inscriptions attest to all the foregoing inferences. In localities such as the Milk River in Alberta, where inscriptions in ogam abound, the bedrock is so soft that the inscriptions cannot be many centuries old. Some declare their [recent origin] by incorporating depictions of Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or colonists with rifles-- scattered incongruously among petroglyphs that depict the old Norsemen gods and heroes.
It is clear that a tradition of sculpting replicas of still older petroglyphs must have persisted for thousands of years, and it is very probable that many of the artists whose work we now admire and whose ogam texts we can still recognize may not themselves have really understood what it was that they had been trained to sculpt. Perhaps, like the Egyptian carvers of Roman times, they merely knew that they were repeating old and hallowed texts from their remote ancestors, the meaning no longer known to them.
Whether this was so or not, the Amerindians have disclosed little of what lies behind their traditional art, or have cloaked it behind a disguise of later-invented myths. And as for the inscriptions, many of those that are still readable as ancient ogam cannot possibly have been cut in ancient times. They represent a fossil art, preserved intact from another age. We can be grateful to those artists who thus preserved the remote past for us in this way.
King Woden-lithi gives a concise summary of his pantheon of gods, which (like Snorri's Edda) he separates into the Aesir or sky gods and the Wanir or earth gods.
"Chief of Norsemen sky gods is Woden of the great spear Gungnir and, as stated above, he has much the same characteristics as Lug of the Gaelic Irish (noted as Celts) and Lew of the Brythonic Irish. He presides over magic and owns a magic ring that Loki, his son, had made for him.
His magic spear is carved many times at Peterborough, some of the larger versions being perhaps the work of Algonquians copying from smaller originals. In one example (Fig. 96 & Fig. 97), located about 18 feet west of the main sun figure, the letters GN-GN N-R are written: Gnugnir, the Ontario version of Gungnir, by which name Odin's spear was known to the Vikings of a later age. These and other inscriptions show that the mythology of Odin in Viking times is fundamentally just a more elaborate development of the mythology of the Norsemen peoples generally in the much earlier era of King Woden-lithi.
About 14 feet south of the main sun figure another of Woden's possessions is depicted (Fig. 103). This is a peculiar forked tree, identified as W-GH D-R-S-I-L, Ughdrasil, matching the world-tree of the Vikings, called Yggdrasil. The name is supposed to mean "Ugly Horse" and its link with the tree is obscure.
Woden was also regarded as the god who presided over the dead, with feasting and other pleasures of the flesh for warriors who died in battle. His assistants in bringing in the bodies of the slain for restoration to life, were the Valkyries. There has not yet been observed any reference to this mythology on the Peterborough site, but Fig. 94 & Fig. 95 suggest that the myth of the Valkyries was imparted to the American migrants from Ireland. The inscriptions depicting these strange riders of flying steeds were cut in nearly modern times by western plainsmen, probably Sioux, who had inherited the Celtic-Norsemen tradition." Please also refer to Figs. 98, 99, 100 & 102.
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