Saturday, October 13, 2012

We Are Not As Far As We Think We Are

Stonehenge was constructed on the Salisbury plain in 3000 B.C.  That is not as far back as we think of "prehistoric" as being.  Within a few years of that date on the timeline the Chinese were casting bronze bells and continuing sophisticated glazing of ceramic ware, the Indus River Valley was dotted with cities, city states ruled from Uruk up the Mesopotamian world, and the warring civilizations of Lower Egypt were within a few centuries of becoming the first unified kingdom in history.  The neolithic tribes of Briton knew that Earth was round, understood the polar circumnavigation of the stars, had mapped the skies and seasons, and wondered if the blue stones themselves of the southwest coast might have healing powers, instead of those powers belonging to the air and sea and spirits.  If you think about it, they may have been within grasp of radiation therapy.

Every semester I offer my students a chance to construct a working Stonehenge but so far I have had no takers, no one believes that they can meet the challenge.

Paleolithic people were less sophisticated than that.  They made 4 inch figures like the Venus of Willendorf and believed that they could appropriate the powers of the spirits and possess them to aid and protect themselves.  They thought that objects could aid with fertility and guard against death in childbirth.  That was 9000 years B.C., at least 11,000 years ago.

But, in 2012 women will still climb onto the effigy of Victor Noir and brag about it online.  There are web sites that offer fertility tours, and the French government had to remove the protective fences that ensured the sanctity and permanence of the cemetery because women protested over their rights.  Rights?  And what are those, exactly?  It is believed that lying on the bronze statue will bring love, happiness and fertility.  Victor Noir was a journalist and anti-Bonapartist in the 19th Century, a case of the messenger being shot.  As part of the outcry over his murder, which was defended much the same as a "stand your ground" defense, a cast was made from his fallen body and it captured in detail the postmortem effects on the young man's corpse.  Flowers, kisses and even sleeping on the statue have been the result.

In England, where they probably wish that they had something like this in Mayfair, they are nonetheless civilized enough to realize that they can turn away from certain superstitions and did something in 1996 -- they returned The Stone of Destiny to Scotland.

What exactly is The Stone of Destiny?  It is the stuff of legend.  The stories vary but the sum of it is this:  three sacred objects are said to have come to ancient Britain during Roman occupation, the stone on which Jacob rested his head brought to England by Jeremiah as a slave from Egypt, the crown of thorns carried to Wearyall Hill by Joseph of Arimathea, and the Holy Grail with Christ's blood.  The Irish claimed the stone and said that the Scottish stole it, the Scots claimed the stone and said that it was carried to Skye and that no rightful king could rule without it, and the British took it from the Scots during the rebellion.  It rested under the coronation throne in Westminster Abbey until it was relinquished in 1996, it was there because no ruler of Great Britain could rightfully rule the United Kingdom unless that ruler was crowned atop The Stone.

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