Saturday, December 02, 2006

World's oldest ritual discovered


Worshipped the python 70,000 years ago

A startling archaeological discovery this summer changes our understanding of human history. While, up until now, scholars have largely held that man's first rituals were carried out over 40,000 years ago in Europe, it now appears that they were wrong about both the time and place.

Associate Professor Sheila Coulson, from the University of Oslo, can now show that modern humans, Homo sapiens, have performed advanced rituals in Africa for 70,000 years. She has, in other words, discovered mankind's oldest known ritual.

The archaeologist made the surprising discovery while she was studying the origin of the Sanpeople. A group of the San live in the sparsely inhabited area of north-western Botswana known as Ngamiland.

Coulson made the discovery while searching for artifacts from the Middle Stone Age in the only hills present for hundreds of kilometers in any direction. This group of small peaks within the Kalahari Desert is known as the Tsodilo Hills and is famous for having the largest concentration of rock paintings in the world.

The Tsodilo Hills are still a sacred place for the San, who call them the "Mountains of the Gods" and the "Rock that Whispers".

The python is one of the San's most important animals. According to their creation myth, mankind descended from the python and the ancient, arid streambeds around the hills are said to have been created by the python as it circled the hills in its ceaseless search for water.

Sheila Coulson's find shows that people from the area had a specific ritual location associated with the python. The ritual was held in a little cave on the northern side of the Tsodilo Hills. The cave itself is so secluded and access to it is so difficult that it was not even discovered by archaeologists until the 1990s.

When Coulson entered the cave this summer with her three master's students, it struck them that the mysterious rock resembled the head of a huge python. On the six meter long by two meter tall rock, they found three-to-four hundred indentations that could only have been man-made.

"You could see the mouth and eyes of the snake. It looked like a real python. The play of sunlight over the indentations gave them the appearance of snake skin. At night, the firelight gave one the feeling that the snake was actually moving".

They found no evidence that work had recently been done on the rock. In fact, much of the rock's surface was extensively eroded.

When they saw the many indentations in the rock, the archaeologists wondered about more than when the work had been done. They also began thinking about what the cave had been used for and how long people had been going there. With these questions in mind, they decided to dig a test pit directly in front of the python stone.

At the bottom of the pit, they found many stones that had been used to make the indentations. Together with these tools, some of which were more than 70,000 years old, they found a piece of the wall that had fallen off during the work.

In the course of their excavation, they found more than 13,000 artifacts. All of the objects were spearheads and articles that could be connected with ritual use, as well as tools used in carving the stone. They found nothing else.

As if that were not enough, the stones that the spearheads were made from are not from the Tsodilo region but must have been brought from hundreds of kilometers away.

The spearheads are better crafted and more colourful than other spearheads from the same time and area. Surprisingly enough, it was only the red spearheads that had been burned.

"Stone age people took these colourful spearheads, brought them to the cave, and finished carving them there. Only the red spearheads were burned. It was a ritual destruction of artifacts. There was no sign of normal habitation. No ordinary tools were found at the site. Our find means that humans were more organised and had the capacity for abstract thinking at a much earlier point in history than we have previously assumed. All of the indications suggest that Tsodilo has been known to mankind for almost 100,000 years as a very special place in the pre-historic landscape." says Sheila Coulson.

Sheila Coulson also noticed a secret chamber behind the python stone. Some areas of the entrance to this small chamber were worn smooth, indicating that many people had passed through it over the years.

"The shaman, who is still a very important person in San culture, could have kept himself hidden in that secret chamber. He would have had a good view of the inside of the cave while remaining hidden himself. When he spoke from his hiding place, it could have seemed as if the voice came from the snake itself. The shaman would have been able to control everything. It was perfect." The shaman could also have "disappeared" from the chamber by crawling out onto the hillside through a small shaft.

While large cave and wall paintings are numerous throughout the Tsodilo Hills, there are only two small paintings in this cave: an elephant and a giraffe. These images were rendered, surprisingly, exactly where water runs down the wall.

Sheila Coulson thinks that an explanation for this might come from San mythology.

In one San story, the python falls into a body of water and cannot get out by itself. The python is pulled from the water by a giraffe. The elephant, with its long trunk, is often used as a metaphor for the python.

"In the cave, we find only the San people's three most important animals: the python, the elephant, and the giraffe. That is unusual. This would appear to be a very special place. They did not burn the spearheads by chance. They brought them from hundreds of kilometers away and intentionally burned them. So many pieces of the puzzle fit together here. It has to represent a ritual." concludes Sheila Coulson.

It was a major archaeological find five years ago that made it possible for Sheila Coulson to date the finds in this little cave in Botswana. Up until the turn of the century, archaeologists believed that human civilisation developed in Europe after our ancestors migrated from Africa. This theory was crushed by Archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood when he published his find of traces from a Middle Stone Age dwelling in the Blombos Cave in Southern Cape, South Africa.

The Research Council of Norway


Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Myth of Baldr

What Odin whispered In Baldr's ear,
Not god nor man Was nigh to hear.
What Odin whispered, Bending low,
No one knowth Or e're shall know.

Baldr Dead

The myth of Baldr is perhaps the best known story from Old Norse mythology. It is also beyond a doubt the most important. Baldr was the son of Odin, known as The Beautiful. He was the deity who reigned over sunshine and summer, and his chief festival was Midsummer. Briefly the story goes as follows:1

Odin had foreseen that Baldr's life was in grave jeopardy, but did not know the exact details.2 Therefore, Frigga, his wife and the mother of Baldr, went forth and bade every living thing on earth swear not to hurt him. She extracted her promise from everything except the mistletoe, which she deemed too young and tender to make a binding vow. When Loki discovered that the mistletoe had been excluded, he made an arrow out of it's boughs. As the gods were making merry with Baldr, tossing all manner of things at him that they knew could not harm him, old blind Hoðr stood alone. Loki approached and asked why he did not honor his brother by attempting to harm him. Hoðr replied that he had neither a weapon to cast nor the sight to cast it. Loki furnished him both, and Baldr fell dead when struck with the mistletoe arrow. Hoðr, realizing too late what he had done, fled. This proved his undoing, as it made the act a murder rather than an accident, and a murder demands justice. Needless to say, Loki took off as well.

Baldr's soul immediately departed for Hel, and the gods dispatched Hermóð, the messenger of the gods and a son of Odin to visit the goddess Hel, Queen of the Underworld, and demand to make ransom for Baldr. As Hermóð headed for Hel, Vali, a son of Odin by the giantess Rinda from the Western Mountains avenged Baldr by hunting down and killing Hoðr. Vali was but one day old, and had neither washed nor cut his hair when he accomplished this deed. Baldr's funeral was held in Asgard with much reverence. When Nanna saw her beloved husband's body lying in his ship, ready to be burned, she died of a broken heart, and so joined him in death. Before putting the torch to the pyre, Odin leaned over the body and whispered something in Baldr's ear. No one knows what Odin said to his dead son in that hour, nor shall anyone save Odin ever know for sure. This had become, by the Viking Age, a common expression for the unknowable.

Hermóð reached Hel and the ransom that was demanded was that every living thing should weep for Baldr, and that if a single thing did not, then he would remain in her keeping until Ragnarok (the "End of the World"), when he will return to live in Valhalla once more.

Hermóð returned to Asgard with the ransom demand, and the gods scattered across Midgard asking every living thing to weep for Baldr. Soon was the Earth awash in the tears of living beings for the passing of Baldr. But deep in a cave the gods came upon the Hag of Ironwood, who, unbeknownst to them, was Loki in disguise. She refused to weep, thus was Baldr condemned to remain in Hel until Ragnarok.

After Loki had the utter gall to return to Asgard for a feast and brag of his misdeed, the gods hunted him down. They bound him to a rock, using the entrails of his son as the binding. A snake was placed over his head, which drips venom. His (remarkably) faithful wife Sigyn stayed with her husband, holding a bowl to catch the dropping poison and relieve some of his torment. But when the bowl fills, and Sigyn must leave to empty it, some of the venom falls on Loki's face. His writhing in agony at such times is said to be the source of earthquakes.3

The Heart of the Northern Mythos

The myth of Baldr and the events surrounding his death and rebirth form the core of Norse heathen belief. Far more than a Christian interpolation, as has been claimed by some, the death of Baldr, the vengeance taken and his rebirth paint a consistent picture of the beliefs of our ancestors concerning the afterlife, the cyclical nature of reality and indeed the nature of deity itself.

The unique nature of deity in the Norse pantheon is often overlooked, perhaps because it is so obvious, especially in the myth of Baldr. Gods die. Like humans in Midgard, the Shining Ones have a lifespan, and can be killed prematurely. This is a crucial difference between Norse Heathen belief and most other religions. Christians, for example, have had to expostulate a dual nature for Christ in order for him to die and yet retain his godhood. The Norse had no such problem, and in fact presaged Paraclesus with a reversal of his famous dictum - as below, so above.

The nature of the afterlife has been a topic much speculated upon in the revival of Asatru. Our ancestors left us precious little lore concerning such things, and what they did leave is a confusing mish-mash of ideas expressed in folklore, poetry and burial practice. However, it is possible to reconstruct a coherent picture of the individual's relationship to the Nine Worlds through a careful sorting and sifting of this material. 4

At it's simplest level the Norse lore concerning the afterlife consisted of a "journey of the soul", whether to Hel, Valhalla or into the grave. Every soul went on a trip shortly after death. It can be speculated at this point that those which were unsuccessful in finding their correct road became the draugar, or "walking dead", of Scandinavian folklore.

It seems likely that these journeys were often construed as involving a seafaring. The prevalence of ship graves and ship grave shapes and markers is truly astonishing, especially in Denmark and southern Norway. In addition, we have a picture of Odin, one of whose other names is God of the Dead, as a ferryman,5 and we have the common Indo-European lore of a river crossing via ferry to reach the land of the dead, as in the Greek myth of Pluto and Charon.

We also have lore concerning a walking or riding trip, a land journey. The number of the wealthy buried or burned with horses is substantial. Presumably these were to be used as mounts in the afterlife, although in fairness to opposing views it must be noted here that blót often involved animal, and especially horse, sacrifice.

So, the question becomes, to where are the dead journeying? And the answers are multiple. Basically there are two destinations, and one fate that seems to eventually meet all the dead.

First off, you could be "chosen" by one of the gods or goddesses to reside in their halls in Asgard. This choosing takes place in some unspecified way, on the part of Odin by assistants called Valkryies. Being chosen by Odin one resides in Valhalla, if chosen by Freyja, one lives with her in Folkvang. There are numerous references to Ægir and Ran receiving the spirits of the sea-dead to their hall below the waves. The halls of the other gods and goddesses seem to be equally receptive to having inhabitants come from Midgard.6

If one is not chosen the reside in Asgard, one apparently either goes to Hel or simply hangs about the grave. Hel in Norse mythology is not at all a bad place or a place of punishment. Hel is most like the Elysian Fields of Greek myth: a scaled back version of Paradise. Simply put, Hel is presented in the lore as being very much like Midgard, or the Earth. There are even a few scattered references to "dying out of Hel"!7 Now, there is a place of punishment, Nifelhel, and it is presented as fairly awful, and to get there you have to be really evil. Nifelhel is more or less the lowest "rung" of Hel, not exactly being a separate world unto itself.

I think we would be on safe ground speculating on the grave as just another "rung" in Hel. It is definitely presented as otherworldly, and not such a bad existence, although one rather amusing anecdote in a saga has a mound-dweller complaining because the slave his relatives killed to accompany him to the otherworld was taking up too much room in the mound, and insisted that the interlopers remains be removed!

The interesting thing is that neither Valhalla nor Hel is referenced as being eternal, a concept with which our forebearers apparently had some problems. Understandable, with nothing in their experience having proved eternal.

There and Back Again

What seems to wait beyond Hel (and Valhalla) is rebirth. Most Indo-European mythologies have this element present, although it is strongest in the Rig Veda and the religion it spawned, Hinduism. The belief in reincarnation is presented several times in the sagas and the Eddas, especially in the myth of Baldr, where Hel promises to hold what she has (Baldr and Hoðr) until the Ragnarok. The Helgi Lays in the Poetic Edda also present this belief rather clearly.8

The Norse sense of rebirth is less that of the direct reincarnation of the complete person (as in Hinduism) than it is the "sense" of person and his or her accumulated might and main coming back through the Well into the Tree. It is better described as the transmigration of one's deeds and luck than it is reincarnation, although there are certainly recorded instances of the latter. One noted incident involved Starkardr, of whom it was said one could note on his body where the extra arms of his namesake had been before Thor had ripped them off. 9

From a Norse perspective it seems that your soul is intimately connected with your parent's souls. Likewise the souls of your children are connected to yours. It makes sense therefore that one cannot be "reborn" while one's immediate ancestors are still alive, as the usual way for a soul to be invited back to Midgard is by giving a newborn child it's name. This explains the near taboo among our ancestors against naming a child after a living ancestor.10 It is also the reason I have heard given on more than one occasion for modern Asa folks taking a Norse "religious" name. They seek to imbue themselves with the might and main of the departed.

So we are left with this picture: after death the soul makes a journey. If chosen by the gods one's destination is Asgard, where one lives at least until the Ragnarok, and possibly after. If not, one travels to Hel (inclusive here of the grave and Nifelhel as well). After a period of time passes, and one's immediate ancestors make their own journeys, one is "presented" for rebirth in Midgard, often but not always down family lines. This also accounts for "dying out of Hel".

The "presentation" may be made in several ways. Often during pregnancy a woman dreams of a name for her child. Perhaps runes or other divination tools were employed to find a fitting name. Although it is nowhere documented it seems logical that a spákóna could have been consulted about naming choices.

The naming ceremony itself is significant. The child is presented to the father on the ninth night after birth. He takes the child, and while sprinkling it with water, claims the child into his line and gives the name. By giving the name it is said that the father gives the newborn a soul. And if an ancestors name has been claimed, then this is the point at which might and main is transferred back into that realm for which we as humans are best suited: Midgard.

If one can in fact "die out of Hel", then I submit that it is logical to assume that what holds for Hel holds for Asgard, and that after Ragnarok those of humans that die in the final conflagration will be "available" for rebirth into Midgard, by way of traveling to Hel. Those Shining Ones that fall will likewise await rebirth into Asgard.

Questions and Answers

I contend that this hypothesis solves one of the thorny issues of Asatru lore, and perhaps answers it's greatest question, "What did Odin whisper into Baldr's ear when his son lay on the pyre?"

Why did not Baldr remain in Asgard after death? He was slain with a weapon and burned according to Odinist practice. Why did he not enter Valhalla as one of the Einherjar ("Heroes of Odin")? It has been noted by many others that Baldr was seemingly "stored" in Hel by Odin specifically so he would survive Ragnarok and return to rule in Asgard. I submit that this was exactly the case, but "stored" awaiting rebirth into Asgard as the descendant of Odin. Further I submit that the lore supports the claim that ultimately Vali will be Baldr's father, as well as half-brother and avenger.

It is also mentioned in Vafðrúðnismál in the Poetic Edda that Vali and Vidhar, both sons of Odin, will live in Valhalla after Ragnarok. Magni and Modi will inherit Mjollnir. Does it not make sense to suppose that following Ragnarok the souls lost in the battle will be reborn into the world they left, be it Asgard or Midgard?

What Odin whispered into Baldr's ear on the pyre may have been "I cannot choose you!", perhaps in the form of Eihwaz, the rune of rebirth. Odin kept Baldr (and Hoðr), safe in the confines of Hel until after Ragnarok. The Ragnarok proceeds according to Odin's plan, even to his own death. This represents Odin's second self-sacrifice, the gift of himself for his son.

Being an Ase, Baldr will probably be able to force a more direct reincarnation rather than the usual case of a partial passing of might and main. Likewise with Hoðr. This would account for the lore of their return from Hel following Ragnarok - being reborn into the family of the gods as descendants once again, of their fathers.

Further, it stands to reason that Baldr would most likely be reborn as a son of Vali, his avenger, simply because of this intimate tie. If Baldr is to be reborn into Odin's line, who better to be his father than Vali? Perhaps Hoðr will return as the son of Vidhar!

Think about who is mentioned as surviving the Ragnarok. Njord lives to return to Vanaheim. Freyja continues her life in Folkvang. Frey dies fighting Surt. Heimdall is killed. Thor is killed, but his children inherit his Hammer. Vali and Vidhar of Odin's line survive. And Baldr and Hoðr will be reborn.11 Ragnarok is thus not about the "End of the World", but rather about the cycle of the world, of death and rebirth. And of course, Hel will not hold Odin, Thor or the other casualties of Ragnarok forever, either.But that is a topic for another day.

The myth of Baldr stands at the very center of Norse beliefs about the afterlife and, along with Voluspá and Vafðrúðnismál in the Poetic Edda, gives us our deepest knowledge of Norse eschatology and cosmogony. It represents the cosmic change that reflects the change we see around us everyday. In this myth we gain key insights: what is lost will return, what is left will survive.


In this work I have used three major sources. First is the Edda, or the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. For reference purposes here I used only the first section of this work, called the Glyfaginning. The exact translation used was the Everyman Library Edition, which was translated by Anthony Faulkes and published in 1987. Any translation will, however, contain the relevant information. This is referred to below as Snorri.

Secondly I have used the Elder or Poetic Edda. Specifically I used Poems of the Elder Edda, translated by Patricia Terry and published in 1990 by the University of Pennsylvania Press. I refer to this work below as simply Edda, and follow it with the specific poem, named as in the original. As above, any translation (including Hollander) will contain these poems.

Thirdly I have used extensively The Road to Hel, by Hilda R. Ellis, first published in 1941 by Cambridge University Press. Anyone interested in Norse views of the afterlife must read this volume. Unfortunately it is out of print, but it is very much worth the time and effort needed to hunt down a used copy. This will be referred to below as The Road to Hel, followed by page number as in standard citations.

[1] Snorri, p. 48-52
[2] Edda, Baldr's Draumar
[3] ibid., Lokasenna
[4] The Road to Hel, p. 170-198
[5] Edda, Hárbarðsljóð
[6] The Road to Hel, p. 74-78
[7] ibid., p. 83
[8] Edda, prose notes following the Helgi Lays
[9] The Road to Hel, p. 141
[10] ibid., p. 138-147
[11] Edda, Vafðrúðnismál

By Daithi M.Haxton


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Where the Fathers of the Christians Church Philhellenes?

"The Saint demolishes the idols..."

(A brief tour of the views expressed by the "fathers of the church on Hellenism.)

Saint Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea (alias Santa Claus)

«The Greeks are enemies, for they delight in devouring Israel with their mouth wide open» « By mouth the prophet means (see Isaiah 9.11) the power of the sophists speech that will use every argument to confuse the simple believers»

Saint Basil of Caesarea ON PROPHET ISAIAH

«My Order is, (!!!) Show no cowardice when you are faced with the Greeks hypotheses, which resemble wood, or rather a used up torch that has lost its liveliness and all power of the wood, and neither does it display any more the torches glow. Indeed like extinguished, smoking torches they will stain black and dishonor he who would reach for them and bring tears to the eyes of those who would venture near them. The same effect has (The Greeks) falsely named knowledge to the people who would use it»

Basil the Great (alias Santa Claus) (330-379AD) FOREWORD TO THE PROPHET ISAIAH 7.196.3)

JOHN CHRYSOSTOM , archibishop of Constantinople

«Should you look into (Greek ideas) you will see ashes and dust and nothing wholesome but a gaping grave that is the larynx (Of the Greek philosophers) and everything filled with impurities and pus, their doctrines swarming with vermin this is what the Greeks begot and expanded, taking over from the philosophers as for ourselves we will not resign from the fight against them».

John Chrysostom (344-407AD) ON SAINT JOHN THE APOSTLE (SPEECH Ξ΄Σ΄) 59.369.12-370.11

Note the philobarbarian attitude of Saint John Chrysostom:

«The more a nation looks barbaric and is estranged from Greek culture, the more our teachings shine this (faithful) barbarian has conquered the entire world and while all Greek culture is extinguished and destroyed, his (the barbarians) shines brighter every day».

Saint John Chrysostom TO JOHN 59.31.33

Saint John Chrysostom undermines the status of the library of Alexandria with torching statements:

«Why therefore, should the Temple of Serapis (The Library of Alexandria) be considered sacred on account of the books? It should not be! but demons occupy the place rather these are ( the Greeks) demons themselves an invisible altar stands next to them on which human souls are sacrificed so understand and spread the word that demons occupy the place».
John Chrysostom ADVERSUS JUDAEOS 48.851.38 to 852.35

Demons according to the wise Archbishop were the books of the Library of Alexandria and soul-sacrificing altars the Greek Libraries!

Accordingly the PATRIARCE OF ALEXANDRIA THEOPHILUS finally demolished the Library in 391 A.D.:

«In Alexandria all the buildings of the Temple of Serapis had a fate similar to the poetic tales of the Giants during the Kingdom of Theodosius and presiding of Theophilus, the votive offerings were destroyed-And they fought the statues and the votive offerings so «valiantly» that they not only triumphed but stole them as well of the Temple of Serapis it was only the foundation stones they did not remove, and that because of the weight of the stones, that (the foundation stones) were immovable. These militant and avaricious «braves»considered the desecration to be a commendable act. Then we were invaded by so called monks, a sort of people, who lead a pig's life and are obviously deranged, perpetrating millions of unheard of evil acts, thinking these were acts of devotion.. At that time any man wearing a black robe had a tyrant's power and could perpetrate any ugly act in public. To this «virtue» were people transformed by the new religion». EUNAPIOS (346-414AD) VITAE SOPHISTORUM 6.11.4

«Your poor and wretched people, you have raised from the manure of the Greek excrements and you have seated him among the Lords of Israel, his own people».

Eusebius Praep Evang./ON PSALMS / HALLELUJAH. ΡΙΒ΄(23.1352.34)

Relevant passages from the Writings of Eusebius:

«Abandoning the Greek follies is an act of wisdom». «Abandon all the Greeks philosophers have proposed on the beginning of things». «(The Greeks) perform witchcraft and therewith force the minds of persons». «Their statues are created with witchcraft and they lead you to sorcery». «Of ancient Hebrews and why we preferred their Scriptures over the Greek words». «The Greeks benefited in everything from the barbarians». «Thieves of ideas are the Greeks». «Why after reasonable judgment and wise deliberation we admitted the truth of the Hebrew history». MIGNE PATROLOGY


«As for myself I consider the Greek culture nonsense, uttered by an evil demon and the saddest of affairs»


JOHN CHRYSOSTOM forbids use of Greek names

«None must call his children the (Greek) ancestors names, be that of their father, their mother, their grandfather or their great grandfather, but instead you must use those of the righteous (of the Old Testament)

John Chrysostom De inani gloria et de educandis liberis (690) 641.65

John Chrysostom recruited mercenaries to systematically demolish the Greek majestic buildings:

«John the Great (Chrysostom) gathered monks inflamed with the zeal of the Lord (fanatical monks), armed them with royal mandate and sent them against the heathen (Greek) shrines. The money paid to those working in demolition and to their assistants he did not obtain from the royal treasury (!) but from wealthy ladies he convinced to contribute so they would obtain the blessing of the Lord with the splendor of their faith. In this way he razed to the ground the rest of the buildings (Temples, monuments, graves, houses)». THEODORETUS ECCLESIASTICAL ΙΣΤ΄ HISTORY TO DAMASIUS (Vol.5, 329/8-330/8)

Michael Kalopoulos (1/6/2000).

Abstracts from the books of Michael Th. Kalopoulos, from the series BIBLICAL RELIGION: «The Great Lie», «Weapons of Deceit» and «Abraham the Sorcerer»