Saturday, October 24, 2020

CFP - SACRED GEOGRAPHIES: LANDSCAPE AND RELIGION IN THE ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN


Mediterranean Archaeology Australasian Research Community (MAARC)

ANNUAL MEETING 28-30 JANUARY 2021, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE (ONLINE)

CALL FOR PAPERS

 

SESSION 9 –SACRED GEOGRAPHIES: LANDSCAPE AND RELIGION IN THE ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN

Session Organizers: Larissa Tittl, University of Melbourne and Caroline Tully, University of Melbourne

Session abstract:

The scent of citrus and of brittle pine

suffused the island. Inside [Calypso] was singing

and weaving with a shuttle made of gold.

Her voice was beautiful. Around the cave

a luscious forest flourished: alder, poplar,

 and scented cypress. It was full of wings.

Birds nested there but hunted out at sea:

the owls, the hawks, the gulls with gaping beaks.

A ripe and luscious vine, hung thick with grapes,

was stretched to coil around her cave. Four springs

spurted with sparkling water as they laced

with crisscross currents intertwined together.

The meadow softly bloomed with celery

and violets. He gazed around in wonder

and joy, at sights to please even a god.

Description of Calypso’s cave in Homer’s Odyssey, Book 5, l.60-74, tr. Emily Wilson

 

The Mediterranean landscape, in both a geographical and imaginative sense, is interconnected with religion, as idea and practise, in many significant ways. The topography and terrain of both land- and seascape are the focus of ritual activity; iconographic and textual responses concerning deities, sacred places, and other-than-human beings; the building of religious architecture; the worship of or ritual engagement with natural features and phenomena: a landscape saturated with sacred elements. And all of this sits alongside and is aligned with wider social, mortuary, and memorialisation practices.

Once considered merely an inert backdrop for human activity or as a series of material affordances or constraints, landscape has increasingly come to be understood as a ‘stage constructed in the mind’ (Ashmore and Knapp 1999: 8) comprising taskscapes of nested activities, palimpsests of memory, association and affect, sites of situated in-dwelling, accumulation, and inscribed attachments over time. Phenomenologically, space and time converge in place, a dialectical position which recursively shapes and is shaped by human agents and thus anchors human ontologies in time and place. Symbolic cultural landscapes include the terrestrial planes of human activity as well as natural phenomena including diurnal and seasonal cycles, and celestial elements such as the sun or the night sky. With nature thus reconfigured as a cultural construction, ideology—political, religious—can be used to normalize or contest the social status quo, to resolve or exploit social tensions around identity and inequality.

What is the role of religion in these systems of power and hierarchy, domination and resistance, identify formation and negotiation; how does landscape fit into this nexus? How did humans in the ancient Mediterranean respond to their environment through or with a sense of the sacred? Was the landscape sentient, numinous or was it just a meeting place for humans and divinities?

This session calls for contributors who research religion and ritual in the context of landscape across the Mediterranean in both space and time: Neolithic to Late Antiquity; the coastlines, hinterlands and connected places that comprise the Mediterranean in the widest geographical and theoretical sense. We invite both theoretically informed papers—including those with new, radical or experimental approaches—and papers based in rich interpretations of fieldwork and survey data, or museum collections. Also welcome are papers that incorporate textual and epigraphical evidence alongside archaeological material. 

Session format:  20-minute papers followed by 5 minutes for questions and discussion.

 

Proposals for papers should be sent to mediterraneanarchaeology@gmail.com and must include the following information:

• Title of the Paper

• Name, affiliation and email of the proposer(s)

• Title of the themed session for your paper

• A short abstract of your proposed paper (of not more than 200 words)

 

The deadline for the submission of all paper and poster proposals is the 30th of November 2020.

 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

CFP for a special issue of The Pomegranate on Pagans and Museums


Museums and contemporary Paganism are inextricably linked. Gerald Gardner, founder of modern pagan witchcraft, first publicised Wicca in 1951 at Cecil Williamson’s Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft at Castletown (later The Museum of Magic and Witchcraft) on the Isle of Man. Some of his correspondence suggests that the first formal Wiccan coven might have been created partially to provide provenance for the museum’s exhibits. Sold to Gardner in 1954, the museum housed his collections and was the base from which he promoted modern witchcraft and published Witchcraft Today. Inherited by his high priestess Monique Wilson after his death in 1964, the museum continued for almost a decade be­fore Wilson sold the 10,000-piece collection to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Ltd in 1973. Tamarra and Richard James of the Wiccan Church of Canada purchased much of Gardner’s collection from Ripley’s in 1987. Cecil Wil­liamson, meanwhile, had attempted to establish a new witchcraft museum on the UK mainland at various locations, eventually settling at Boscastle in Cornwall in 1960. Williamson’s Museum of Witchcraft was sold to Graham King in 1996; and has been under the direction of Simon Costin as The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic since 2013.

A number of small museums today focus on contemporary and historical witchcraft and magic: The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in Cleveland, Ohio was founded by Raymond Buckland, one of the first Gardnerian Wiccans in America. Others include the Witch History Mu­seum in Salem, Massachusetts; The Hexenmuseum Schweiz in Gränichen, Switzerland; Strand­agaldur, The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft; the Museo de las Brujas in Zu­garramurdi, Spain; and HEX! Museum of Witch Hunt in Ribe, Denmark. Temporary exhibitions of objects belonging to the “mother of modern witch­craft,” Doreen Valiente, were held in Brighton, UK, in 2016; the Academy of Arcana in Santa Cruz, California, ran for two years between 2015–2017; and objects loaned from The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic to The Last Tuesday Society & The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in London were displayed in 2018. There are also museums dedicated to stage magic such as the American Museum of Magic in Michigan; the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas; The Magic Circle Museum in London; and the Musée de la Magie in Paris.

Exhibitions of objects pertaining to Paganism, witchcraft and magic also feature in large “univer­sal” museums, galleries and libraries. Occult walking tours of London include the British Mu­seum; the “Witches and Wicked Bodies” exhibition was held by the National Galleries of Scot­land in association with the British Museum between 2013–2015; the British Library presented the exhibition “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” in 2017; which was followed by “Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft” at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 2018. In 2019 “Second Sight: Witchcraft, Ritual, Power” was held at the University of Queensland Art Museum in Aus­tralia; and “Waking the Witch” at the Bonington Gallery at the University of Nottingham. Most recently (2019–2020), the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery held “Do You Believe in Magic?”

Beyond Wicca, museums have played important parts in other magical and Pagan revivals. The late nineteenth and early twentieth-century members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn sought to commune with the collections of large public museums such as the British Museum and the Louvre. Today, ancient Pagan objects are often the focus of quiet reverence by contemporary Pagans in museums, although in early 2020 the Witches of New York conducted a vocal “pop up” ritual to the goddess Hekate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. British Druids have been active participants in the controversy over the storage and repatriation of human remains held in museums; Pagans hold rituals at prehistoric archaeological sites which can be considered outdoor museums; and go on Goddess tours to experience sites and museums in locations such as Ireland, Crete, Malta and Turkey. “Witch City,” Salem, is a tourist/pilgrimage destination where public witchiness is encouraged; the Witch House is used as a backdrop for evocative Instagram photos and offerings are left at the Witch Trials Memorial. In contrast, Salem’s Essex Peabody Museum is often ignored, although perhaps not for much longer with an exhibition on the Salem Witch Trials scheduled for September 26, 2020 to April 4, 2021.

The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies invites submissions of articles (5000–8000 words) for a special issue on Pagans and Museums, edited by Caroline Tully (caro­line.tully@unimelb.edu.au). How and why do contemporary Pagans engage with museums to­day?

Possible topics include:

1. The role of elite museums in the creation of contemporary Paganisms 

2. The role of small museums: e.g., the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic; the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft; Salem witch museums

3. Pagan perceptions regarding the agency and enchantment of museum objects

4. Material and sensory aspects of Pagan experience within museums

5. Pagan use of museums and preserved historic or archaeological sites for religious purposes: e.g., the replica Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee

6. Pagans and Witch Trials Memorials: e.g., Bålberget Memorial, Sweden; Steilneset Memorial, Norway; Paisley Witches Memorial, Scotland; the Salem Witch Trials Memorial

7. Pagan attempts to change the narrative in museums, including efforts at removing ancient human remains from display, for example, the efforts of the Honouring the Ancient Dead movement in the UK

8. Memorializing contemporary Pagan history: e.g., the Doreen Valiente Foundation

Abstracts by Dec. 31 2020. Finished papers by March 31 2021.

For information on the submission process see: https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/POM/about/submissions

Please note that The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies uses the Univer­sity of Chicago Press notes-and-bibliography citation style: http://www.chicagomanualof­style.org/tools_citationguide/citation-guide-1.html

 

*Image from the exhibition, Préhistoire, une énigme modern, at the Centre Pompidou, 2019.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Pomegranate: International Journal of Pagan Studies special Issue on Paganism, art, and fashion

 


Here is the Table of Contents for the special issue of The Pomegranate on Paganism, art, and fashion that I guest edited. The articles are currently open access which is great because it means that people who usually cannot access academic journals are able to read them.

Introduction to the Special Issue of The Pomegranate on Paganism, Art, and Fashion – by Caroline Jane Tully      

Feminist Interpretations of Witches and the Witch Craze in Contemporary Art by Women – by Katy Deepwell

High Glamour: Magical Clothing and Talismanic Fashion – by Charlotte Rodgers    

Hashtag Heathens: Contemporary Germanic Pagan Feminine Visuals on Instagram – by Ross Downing    

Wolves Amongst the Sheep: Looking Beyond the Aesthetics of Polish National Socialism – by Mariusz Filip  

The Morrigan as a “Dark Goddess”: A Goddess Re-Imagined Through Therapeutic Self-Narration of Women on Social Media – by Áine Warren

Getting It Wrong: The Problems with Reinventing the Past – by Diane Purkiss      

Book Reviews

S. Kelley Harrell, Runic Book of Days: A Guide to Living the Annual Cycle of Rune Magick and Nigel Pennick, Runic Lore & Legend: Wyrdstaves of Old Northumbria – by Jefferson F. Calico       

Duncan Macrae, Legible Religion: Books, Gods, and Rituals in Roman Culture – by Norman Simms


Saturday, June 27, 2020

Julian Vayne interview with me on My Magical Thing




Ever since we were forced into lockdown by this pesky virus I’d been enjoying watching Julian Vayne’s YouTube mini-interviews, called “My Magical Thing”, in which various magicky people talk about an object that is magical or otherwise special or significant to them. I thought it was a really good idea, magical practitioners talking about an object that was not necessarily (but could be) what we might specifically classify as overtly “magic”, as in a ritual tool or components of a spell. The people interviewed were always really interesting and it was a fun surprise to see what their magical thing was and hear them talk about it. 
As I watched the interviews I’d wonder what magical thing I’d talk about if I was ever interviewed like that. Then, lo and behold, Julian Vayne contacted me and asked me if I wanted to participate! Well, being such a fan of the series, of course I did. But then I had the dilemma of deciding what magical thing to talk about. Should I talk about, say, a specific ritual object like a cauldron, wand, cup, or broom? A statue? Magical jewellery? I considered talking about my Church of All Worlds “Thou Art God/dess” mirror (used in CAW rituals)… But then I decided to talk about a tree. And this is the basis of, but not exactly, what I said:
My magical thing is a tree, well, a model of a tree that I got several years ago in Israel. So, let me fill you in on the back story…
I was in Israel working on a dig – an archaeological excavation – at a place called Caesarea, a huge Roman port, on the beach. And we were working on material from Herod’s palace at Caesarea - one of his palaces.
So this is King Herod I (73 – 4 BCE), or Herod the Great, Herod of the Massacre of the Innocents, client king of Roman Judea. He is the Great Uncle of Herodias (who became a goddess of witches during the medieval period and comes down to us as Aradia), and the Great Great Uncle of Herodias’ daughter Salome of the dance of the seven veils and the killing of John the Baptist. That dance was performed in front of Herod I’s son Herod Antipas, who Herodias was married to (her cousin once removed).
So the palace we’re working on dates to before Herodias and Salome. The reason I am there is because I am interested in Garden Archaeology – the excavation of gardens – and I was working with one of the world experts on Garden Archaeology. And Herod’s palace at Caesarea had these rock cut planting pits around a pool so I was interested to look at those.
There was also a well in the palace which was full of what may have been curse tablets. Curse tablets are usually made of lead and have writing on, these were stone and any writing would have had to have been painted on. They were all sorts of different shapes, square, circular, triangle, and I was sorting them into typologies and photographing them. 
Anyway, how did I get the tree? We are staying on a moshav, which is a cooperative agricultural community, and there was an artists’ studio where they made these brightly coloured naïve art objects and that’s where I got the tree.
But why is this a magical object to me? A talismanic object. Long before the Herodian kingdom of Roman Judea, and before the codification of Judaism, the ancient Israelites were polytheistic and worshipped a goddess called Asherah who was in the form of a tree. 
Asherah is a Canaanite goddess who is married to the god El. They have 70 sons, one of whom is Yahweh, the monotheistic god of Judaism and later Christianity. In the biblical text Asherah is sometimes paired with Yahweh, or with Baal, but these are actually her sons. 
Ancient Israelite religion was described in the Bible as occurring “on every high hill and under every green tree”. We know that Israelite religion occurred at a cult place called a Bamah, or High Place, which featured a sacred tree called an Asherah, a sacred stone called a Massebah, an altar or Misbe’ah, and a built structure called a Bayit, house or shine. 
I love how if you go back in time through the Middle Eastern Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition that so many of us have inherited, that you will come upon a Nature Religion centred around a Tree of Life.  
Pagans tend to dismiss biblical religion, but within it is a Nature Religion. Within Ceremonial Magic which has more of a connection to Biblical religion we use the Tree as a conceptual diagram with the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, and of course the Tree is relevant to Thelema as well because Nut – or Nuit – is often in the form of a life giving tree
I’m really interested in communicating with trees, often in a divinatory capacity, like at Dodona in Greece where you listen to the sounds of the tree – "a word of tree and a whisper of stone" – as the Ugaritic text says. Now with scientific instruments we can also hear sounds that plants make that were formerly beyond the capacity of human hearing. 
The most important thing about a tree is that we share the planet with them and are dependent on them, and we need to forge relationships with them and NOT chop them down.
You can watch the interview with me about My Magical Thing on Julian Vayne and Nikki Wyrd’s Deep Magic YouTube page.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

New Antiquities


This is the book cover of New Antiquities: Transformations of Ancient Religion in the New Age and Beyond, edited by Dylan M. Burns and Almut-Barbara Renger, in which I have an article - "The artifice of Daidalos: Modern Minoica as religious focus in contemporary Paganism." There are many interesting chapters in this book. Here's the abstract to mine: 
That human society was peaceful, matriarchal and goddesses-worshipping from the Upper Palaeolithic period (45,000–10,000 years ago) until around 3000 BCE with the rise of patriarchy is a common belief within both the modern feminist Goddess Movement and contemporary Paganism. This paper examines the representation of Minoan Crete within the literature of the feminist Goddess Movement from the 1970s up to the present day. In addition, it investigates the utilisation of outdated and erroneous interpretations of Minoan religion within the separatist feminist practice of Dianic witchcraft, the predominantly female pursuit of goddess tourism and pilgrimage, and the theology of the male-only Neo-Pagan group, the Minoan Brotherhood. Analysis and critique of the matriarchalist interpretation of Minoan material culture as applied to figurines, frescoes, glyptic art, and architecture by these groups demonstrates that these archaeological objects are interpreted in a highly ideological manner in order to support both contemporary religious belief and magical practice. That such interpretations have little to do with actual Minoan religion is emphasised by focusing upon a group of the most important and evocative feminist icons of the Minoan past: the faience and ivory “snake goddesses.” Recent scholarship, pace earlier researchers such as the Cambridge Ritualists, has demonstrated that these objects range from being heavily reconstructed to outright forgeries and consequently are not reliable representatives of ancient Minoan religion. The use of Minoan artefacts of questionable authenticity along with an interpretative reliance upon outdated scholarship by modern Goddess worshippers means that their rituals, festivals and tours function as heterochronies, conceptually transporting participants to an idealised, imaginary past that provides aesthetic compensation for the imperfect world of today.


Friday, May 29, 2020

The First Review of My Book


I was very excited this morning when I opened my email and saw the first review of my book, The Cultic Life of Trees in the Bronze Age Aegean, Levant, Egypt and Cyprus. Andrew Fox from the University of Nottingham, a scholar of Roman trees, has reviewed my book for Bryn Mawr Classical Review. You can read the review here. Thanks Andrew. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Workshops offered by Dr Caroline Tully



Thelemic Witchcraft for Beginners    
Thelema is a Greek word meaning ‘will’ or ‘desire’. Join Caroline Tully in a beginner’s workshop on Thelemic Witchcraft, a form of New Aeon Witchcraft that focuses on methods for causing change in accordance with your will. Through practical ritual and discussion this old-but-new approach to Magick will be illuminated. Caroline has a background in various traditions of Witchcraft and Magick and is also an academic who studies ancient Mediterranean Pagan religions and their manifestation in the modern world. 

Ancient Mediterranean Witchcraft    
Ancient Greek mythology provides stories of princely heroes who seek out legendary sorceresses and their magical power. Witches acted as guides for figures such as Odysseus and Jason; men required to enter the feminine, womb-like space of the Underworld or to journey to the ends of the Earth. In later Roman literature, witches degenerated into cemetery-scouring hags; no longer sending the hero down to the Underworld, but instead bringing the realm of the dead up by performing necromantic rites.
Join Dr Caroline Tully in a workshop on Ancient Mediterranean Witchcraft that focuses on mythological witches, ancient magical techniques, and the inheritance of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman magic evident in Wicca today. Through discussion and practical ritual, ancient approaches to magic will be revealed. 

Minoan Snake Goddess     
The Great Goddess was the original, and only, deity of humankind from the dawn of time up until around 3000 BCE, when Goddess-oriented cultures were conquered by patriarchal, warlike worshippers of a sky god. Late Bronze Age Minoan Crete (1750–1490 BCE) is considered to be the Goddess culture’s final flowering. According to Goddess History, Crete exhibits the last gasp of the feminine values associated with Goddess culture before it was wiped out by warlike, patriarchal Mycenaean Greeks. Before this time Minoan Crete was peaceful, worshipped the Great Goddess and her Dying and Rising Consort (who was also her son), and women and nature were respected.  
Join Dr Caroline Tully in a workshop on ancient Minoan religion, focussing on the Snake Goddess. On the island of Crete the snake appears in the worship of the female deity more repeatedly than anywhere else in the Mediterranean. Ancient artifacts have been unearthed that portray the Goddess or Her priestesses holding snakes in their hands or with them coiled about their bodies, revealing that they were an integral part of the religious rituals. Through discussion and practical ritual, contemporary approaches to Minoan religion will be revealed.

Death in Ancient Mythology     
The cycle of birth, death and rebirth is at the core of Pagan mythology. Many myths deal with journeys into the land of the dead. Often these are stories of descent and return. These myths show us how the cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth plays itself out in the seasons. Working with these myths, retelling the tales, and exploring them in guided journeys and meditations can help us deeply integrate our understanding of the circle of rebirth. Initiation rites found in most Pagan mystery religions, both ancient and modern, re-enact or are inspired by myths of descent into the Underworld and approach death through metaphor and ritual. This workshop explores Underworld myths of Inanna’s Descent, Demeter and Persephone, Orpheus and Eurydice, Circe and Odysseus, Aeneas and the Sybil, and others. We will explore ancient mythologies and practices around death, as well as Pagan ways of celebrating and mourning loved ones including funerary rites and ancestor reverence.

Magical Gems and Jewellery, Healing, and the Stars      
Witches regularly wear occult jewellery: pentagram pendants, amber, jet, moonstone, coral, or even acorn necklaces; magical rings with special stones or symbolic designs; and lots of silver, the metal of the moon. Wearing jewellery is a form of communication: to the wearer to other people, and to hidden forces attracted by certain colours, substances and patterns.
Join Dr Caroline Tully in a workshop about magical gems and jewellery from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt; ancient healing modalities and gods; and healing astrology. Learn about the stone amulets, empowering talismans, and protective jewellery of the Ancient World, and the spells used to activate them. Through discussion and practical ritual, contemporary approaches to healing magic will be revealed. Bring a piece of your own jewellery and through ritual we will draw down the stars to consecrate it to a healing deity. Participants will also take home their own moonstone amulet.

The Goddess Asherah, Ecopaganism, and the Anthropocene        
Biblical bad girl, Queen Jezebel, worshipped a tree goddess called Asherah, mentioned forty times in the Hebrew Bible. Ancient Israelites performed ritual “on every high hill and under every green tree” — an expression that occurs in the Bible fifteen times. Trees feature in the narratives about Abraham, who set up altars under sacred trees, and Moses, who spoke to Yahweh in the form of a burning bush. The most famous trees of the Bible are the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.
With all this tree worship, how did humanity became so divorced from nature that it caused its own geological epoch called the Anthropocene? Join Dr Caroline Tully in a workshop that looks at the environmental aspects of ancient Mediterranean religion, and ways that we can realign with the natural world today. We will also look at the tree as a conceptual map in Kabbalah, the relationship of the Tarot to the Tree of Life, and how we can return to Eden through scrying the Tarot trumps or pathworking. Participants are encouraged to bring their own Tarot cards (but it’s not essential).


Monday, March 16, 2020

Orphic Hymn to Hygeia


Charming queen of all, lovely and blooming, blessed Hygeia, mother of all, bringer of bliss, hear me. Through you vanish the illnesses that afflict man, through you every house blossoms to the fullness of joy. The arts thrive when the world desires you, O queen, loathed by Hades, the destroyer of souls. Apart from you all is without profit for men: wealth, the sweet giver of abundance for those who feast, fails, and man never reaches the many pains of old age. Goddess, come, ever-helpful to the initiates, keep away the evil, distress of unbearable diseases.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Workshop: The Goddess Asherah, Ecopaganism, and the Anthropocene, 28 March 2020, at Muses of Mystery


Biblical bad girl, Queen Jezebel, worshipped a tree goddess called Asherah, mentioned forty times in the Hebrew Bible. Ancient Israelites performed ritual “on every high hill and under every green tree” — an expression that occurs in the Bible fifteen times. Trees feature in the narratives about Abraham, who set up altars under sacred trees, and Moses, who spoke to Yahweh in the form of a burning bush. The most famous trees of the Bible are the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.
With all this tree worship, how did humanity became so divorced from nature that it caused its own geological epoch called the Anthropocene? Join Dr Caroline Tully in a workshop that looks at the environmental aspects of ancient Mediterranean religion, and ways that we can realign with the natural world today. We will also look at the tree as a conceptual map in Kabbalah, the relationship of the Tarot to the Tree of Life, and how we can return to Eden through scrying the Tarot trumps or pathworking. Participants are encouraged to bring their own Tarot cards (but it’s not essential).
Caroline has a background in various traditions of witchcraft and magic/k and is also an academic who studies ancient Mediterranean Pagan religions and their manifestation in the modern world.

28 March 2020
11 am to 2 pm at Muses of Mystery


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Workshop: Magical Gems and Jewellery, Healing, and the Stars, 7 March 2020, at Muses of Mystery


Witches regularly wear occult jewellery: pentagram pendants, amber, jet, moonstone, coral, or even acorn necklaces; magical rings with special stones or symbolic designs; and lots of silver, the metal of the moon. Wearing jewellery is a form of communication: to the wearer to other people, and to hidden forces attracted by certain colours, substances and patterns.
Join Dr Caroline Tully in a workshop about magical gems and jewellery from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt; ancient healing modalities and gods; and healing astrology. Learn about the stone amulets, empowering talismans, and protective jewellery of the Ancient World, and the spells used to activate them. Through discussion and practical ritual, contemporary approaches to healing magic will be revealed. Bring a piece of your own jewellery and through ritual we will draw down the stars to consecrate it to a healing deity. Participants will also take home their own moonstone amulet.
Caroline has a background in various traditions of witchcraft and magic/k and is also an academic who studies ancient Mediterranean Pagan religions and their manifestation in the modern world.
11 am to 2 pm



Thursday, January 30, 2020

Minoan Fairies? Hovering human figures in the glyptic art of Late Bronze Age Crete


This is an interview I did with Simon Young which appeared in the Fairy Investigation Society Newsletter 2, New Series, Jul 2015.

SY: Caroline, first of all thanks so much for talking to us. Could you start by telling us something about what you are studying and how you got there?

CT: I did a PhD at the University of Melbourne, Australia, on what can be generally termed ‘nature worship’ in Late Bronze Age or ‘Minoan’ Crete. It involved looking at images and sites in Crete and Greece and at comparative material from Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt. I focused on miniature images engraved upon gold rings and stone seals dating to the Cretan Neopalatial Period (ca.1750–1430 BCE) that depict human figures interacting with the landscape through religious activity focused upon trees, stones and mountains, as seen in Figure 1, as well as the actual sites where such activity may have occurred.

 

Figure 1. Minoan style gold ring from Mycenae, Greece.

I came to this topic through a lifelong interest in religion – specifically ancient religion – and art. I have a background in art and craft and worked as a medieval style tapestry weaver at the Australian Tapestry Workshop for fourteen years, before going back to university in 2004 and starting my PhD in 2009. I also have a background in nature religion, having been involved in Contemporary Paganism since 1985, before which I was a rather disinterested Catholic. In the case of Minoan religion I am interested in what appears to be a communicative relationship between humans and the landscape, expressed through ritual, which suggests that the Minoans perceived the landscape as animate.

Many images on the gold rings feature full-sized human figures apparently communicating with tiny hovering human figures that seem to emerge from the sky or in the vicinity of trees and rocks, as can be seen in Figures 2, 3 and 4. In Minoan archaeology these have traditionally been interpreted as ‘envisioned epiphany’ scenes, meaning that they are thought to depict a vision of a deity or spirit that the human figure in the image is experiencing.


 Figure 2. Drawing of the bezel of a Minoan gold ring (Ashmolean Museum).

Figure 3. Drawing of the bezel of a gold ring from Elateia, Greece.


 Figure 4. Drawing of the bezel of a Bronze ring from Khania, Crete.

SY: Now many people reading this will be saying what has this to do with fairies? Well, I’m presenting here Figure 5 from a recent article of yours. Can you explain what the image we are looking at shows and why it might be argued that this is a particularly early depiction of a fairy?

Figure 5. Drawing of the bezel of a gold ring from Isopata, Crete.

CT: As you can see in Figure 5, a tiny female figure hovers in the upper right of the image while four larger human figures appear to be in an ecstatic state, possibly dancing. Other objects hover in the sky as well, such as an eye, a snake, and a possible shooting star or bean pod (we don’t really know what it is, some think it might be a sprig of wheat) and perhaps a small container, but it is the tiny human figure that I’m suggesting is akin to what we might term a fairy. I’m not the first one to suggest this; Lucy Goodison proposed the same thing in her book Holy Trees and Other Ecological Surprises (Just Press, 2010).

In examples where hovering human figures seem to emerge from trees, as in Figure 6, I tend to think that what we might be looking at are what were termed in ancient Greece ‘Tree Nymphs’, which were long-lived – but not necessarily immortal – numina of trees. There are other types of nymphs as well, but generally they tend to live in natural places such as in forests and on mountains rather than cities. Although Crete is part of the Greek Islands today, the ancient Minoans were not Greek, but I think that such figures emerging from trees express the same idea as the Greek nymph.


 Figure 6. Drawing of a clay sealing from Haghia Triada, Crete.

Not all Minoan examples are associated with trees; some appear in conjunction with architectural structures such as buildings, stone altars or boats, as can be seen in Figures 7 and 8.

Figure 7. Drawing of a clay sealing from Zakros.


 Figure 8. Drawing of the bezel of a gold ring from Amnissos, Crete.


SY: So these would be boat or building spirits?

CT: Well, in Figure 7 the hovering figure seems to emerge from what might be either a building rendered in small scale or an altar structure that has what are termed in Minoan archaeology ‘Horns of Consecration’(stylized bull’s horns and/or possibly the Egyptian sign for the horizon consisting of two stylized mountain peaks with a valley in between them) on top of it. Whether it is a building or an altar, the Horns of Consecration suggest that it is a sacred structure, so this hovering figure is probably indicating some sort of numen of the structure. There is also a small altar on the right with a plant on top of it which a full-sized male figure is leaning over. In Figure 8 the hovering figure, while above a boat, actually emerges from a tree or branch that is also hovering above the boat, so I think this is some sort of numen of the wood that the boat is made from. Boats were considered to be alive in the Bronze and Iron Age Mediterranean, as evidenced by texts from the Levantine city of Ugarit (on the Syrian coast opposite Cyprus) that speak of a boat being ‘killed’ by a storm. Maritime archaeologist, Sara A. Rich, has suggested that Levantine cedar wood ship masts were considered to be manifestations of the tree goddess, Asherah. It may have been the case in Crete as well that the animate tree continued being inhabited by its numen after it was turned into a boat.  

Whatever the location of the tiny hovering figures in the Minoan images, I think they represent a communicative relationship between a human being and a spirit of the environment. In Greek literature, only heroes and heroines (think Achilles or Helen in the Iliad) saw supernatural beings in anthropomorphic form, often because they were half-divine themselves or especially favoured by the gods. Other people had to settle for seeing such beings in their natural forms for example, the god Zeus as a thunder storm or Athena as a shooting star. This might be what we are looking at in Figure 9.

In the examples on the Minoan rings the human figures who see the tiny hovering figures may be claiming to have a more intimate relationship with the animate environment ‒ which manifests to them in anthropomorphic form ‒ than those who see shooting stars, birds, insects, or symbols, as seen in Figure 9. A spirit that takes a human form is easier for an actual human being to relate to and may suggest a particular type of skill or special quality of the human that gives them the ability to see the supernatural being in human form. Of course ‘supernatural’ isn’t really the right word here, as this is not occurring outside of or beyond nature. I should say ‘numen’, meaning the spirit or divine power presiding over a thing or place.   

Figure 9. Drawing of the bezel of a gold ring from Vapheio, Greece.

In these particular examples, being on gold rings owned by elite Minoan administrators and perhaps rulers, it is these types of people who are claiming to have an intimate relationship with the animate world around them and who may also have had priestly roles within their society. This does not preclude the regular people of ancient Crete also having a relationship with the numina of the environment, and they probably did, but the artwork that depicts these images was commissioned by and belonged to the palatial elites.

SY: You rightly point out that there is a lot of uncertainty here. This is, after all, a civilization with no usable written records: that is we can’t yet read their writing. The images are open to many different interpretations. But if we accept that there are ‘spirits’ of some kind here what kind of spirits are they likely to be? Some talk of spirits of the dead, others nature spirits? Are these, thinking of arguments about fairies in Britain and Ireland, perhaps the same thing in the end?   

CT: That’s right, the scripts of Minoan Crete (Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A) are not translated so in deciphering Minoan religion we have to rely on images and archaeological sites, as well making comparative analogies with other societies. Yes, the Minoan examples may have been both spirits of the human dead and animate aspects of the natural world at the same time. We don’t really know what the Minoans thought about where the dead went when they left their human bodies, but in some cultures ritual offerings are given to the dead for a certain amount of time, or the remains of the dead are treated in a particular way for a specific period, until it is deemed that they have moved from the realm of the human dead (which could be earthbound or in an otherworld) to the realm of the ancestors.

The ancestors may not be so much in an ‘other’ place, as in another state of being, and may return to, or manifest in, familiar earthly locales. In some cultures ancestors are associated with the chthonic, earthly gods, or with the celestial deities and the stars. Sometimes more elite ancestors have a more comfortable afterlife while regular people have a correspondingly ordinary afterlife. The Minoan hovering figures could certainly be ancestors and of course, as you say, British and Irish fairies are associated with the dead. I still think, however, that they emerge from within the real world rather than come from some remote unknowable place outside the world.   
  
SY: So if we can just back up for a minute: Let’s take this argument on trust for a moment and call these being ‘fairies’. Is this perhaps the oldest depiction of a fairy in the world?

CT: Well, it depends on what you think a fairy is. In British and Irish fairy lore and in Scottish Witch Trial confessions, fairies are not really always small, some are human sized but are recognised as fairies by their clothes – either green or very old fashioned – again crossing over with ghosts of the dead (old clothes) and spirits of nature (green clothes). If fairies are actually signs of communication between human beings and their environment, which I think they are, then they can be classified as a category of deity – if you think that deities are anthropomorphized aspects of the natural and cultural world, which I do. In that case, these Minoan images would not be the oldest images of fairies, as they only date to the Late Bronze Age, which really isn’t that old.  

SY: I’ve spent quite a lot of the afternoon looking at these images and it strikes me that many of the ‘fairies’ we are seeing are ‘winged’: what is it with ‘fairies’ (and other spirits) and wings?

CT: Well, actually, what you’re looking at is traditionally interpreted in Minoan archaeology as their hair which is rendered as a series of dots (Figures 2, 3, 4, 5). It is thought that the rows of upwards curving dots behind the tiny figures is their hair being blown upwards as they descend from the air. Some scholars have suggested than rather than hovering, the figures are just really far away and that is why they appear so small. Their billowing hair, along with their pointed feet suggest that they are not standing on the ground however but are floating, rather than being located in the distance of the image. But, the hair could be interpreted as wings – some of them don’t have any noticeable hair at all though (Figures 6, 7, 8).You can also see dots in the sky in Figure 10. These have been interpreted as either the horizon or as bees heading for a beehive situated in the far left of the image.

As for fairies and wings, I’m not sure how old the image of the winged fairy is. Certainly the cute butterfly-like fairy is a Victorian construct, but I’m not sure about other periods. The fairies that the Scottish witches dealt with were human sized and not winged as far as I know. Different cultures will have different looking fairies, but I suspect the wings are related to their ability to fly as well as their non-human, rather insect-like natures – they don’t usually have bird’s wings, do they? Although many ancient deities certainly took on the forms of birds and some of the Minoan rings depict birds swooping down toward human figures in some sort of swoon, as can be seen in Figure 10.


Figure 10. Drawing of the bezel of a gold ring from Kalyvia, Crete.

SY: Let’s leave these fascinating images behind for a moment. We know that in other parts of the world and throughout history shamans, witches and magicians had spirit assistants, which they sometimes called fairies. Is this relationship between a man and woman of power and a, let’s call it, ‘familiar’, pretty much universal in human societies?

CT: I suspect so, but not for everyone. Some people are simply not the slightest bit interested in dealing with the hidden or ‘occult’ realms. And sometimes the person who does deal with what we may call for convenience the Otherworld is accepted and revered by their society and has a high status, and other times they are disapproved of, shunned and even persecuted. In the Minoan examples elites were showing that they had a special communicative relationship with the animate landscape, so in this society it must have had a positive – even prestigious – value. In other cultures, especially when not part of official religion, interaction with spirits can have a very low, even criminal, status as we see in the European Witch trials.  

SY: If an Isobel Gowdie, the Scottish witch condemned for trafficking with fairies in 1662, was to come back today and meet our modern fairy shamans and fairy seers would she feel kinship? Is there continuity between the men and woman of power who see fairies in 2015 and those who were the brokers between the spirit world and this world three or four hundred years ago?

CT: I think that people from the past such as Isobel Gowdie who believed in and had converse with fairies – by whatever name they called them, elves, brownies, piskies, lords and ladies –would find common ground with people who do this today. There may be cultural differences, the fairies may have different names or look different, the reasons why people converse with them today may be different to those in say, mid-seventeenth century Scotland when Isobel Gowdie was around, but the general idea is the same. I think fairies are a way to speak to nature. I know that sounds rather naive and romantic in this post-industrial world, but I don’t mean it in an escapist way, but rather as an actual method by which one can intuit information about our world. Does that mean that I think fairies are metaphors? No, but I don’t think they – or gods for that matter – really have human forms. I think that is a disguise they wear so they don’t confuse or even frighten us by their real forms. I think we find it easier to relate to them when they are in anthropomorphic form. If fairies are a way by which human beings can relate to the world around them, attempt to gain access to knowledge that may otherwise be unobtainable, bring good fortune upon ourselves, and avert illness and bad luck, then I do think that we have continuity with historical figures who interacted with fairies. But, I don’t think that in 2015 we can unlearn the advances in science of the last three hundred and fifty-plus years that separate us from a fairy witch such as Isobel Gowdie, which might make some of us more self-conscious and less spontaneous in our adventures into the realm of fairy.  

SY: Caroline, Thanks so much!

Thanks to Professor Ingo Pini and the Corpus der Minoischen und Mykenischen Siegel for permission to reproduce these images.