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My local shops are already full of spooky masks, cobwebs and halloween paraphernalia. I just wanted to remind people of the ancient origins of this Celtic Festival.

Halloween or Hallowe’en is now celebrated across the world on the night of 31st October. Modern day celebrations generally involve groups of children dressed in scary costumes roaming from house to house, demanding “trick-or-treat”. Fearing the worst, intimidated householders normally hand over vast amounts of treats in the form of chocolates, sweets and candy to avoid whatever dastardly tricks may have been dreamt up by these little miscreants. The origins of these celebrations however date back thousands of years, to pagan times.

The origins of Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Until 2,000 years ago, the Celts lived across the lands we now know as Britain, Ireland and northern France. Essentially a farming and agricultural people, the Pre-Christian Celtic year was determined by the growing seasons and Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark cold winter. The festival symbolised the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Massacre of the Druids

It was believed by the Celts that on the night of 31st October, ghosts of their dead would revisit the mortal world and large bonfires were lit in each village in order to ward off any evil spirits that may also be at large. Celtic priests, known as Druids, would have led the Samhain celebrations. It would also have been the Druids who ensured that the hearth fire of each house was re-lit from the glowing embers of the sacred bonfire, in order to help protect the people and keep them warm through the forthcoming long, dark winter months.

The Romans conquered much of the Celtic tribal lands when they invaded from mainland Europe in 43 AD, and over the next four hundred years of occupation and rule, they appear to have assimilated many of their own celebrations into the existing Celtic festivals. One such example may help to explain the current Halloween tradition of ‘bobbing’ for apples. The Roman goddess of fruit and trees was known as Pomona (pictured to the right), and her symbol just happened to have been that of the apple.

As the Romans moved out of Britain in the early 5th century, so a new set of conquerors began to move in. First Saxon warriors raided England’s south and east coasts. Following these early Saxon raids, from around AD430 a host of Germanic migrants arrived in east and southeast England, including Jutes from the Jutland peninsula (modern Denmark), Angles from Angeln in southwest Jutland and the Saxons from northwest Germany. The native Celtic tribes were pushed to the northern and western extremes of Britain, to present day Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Cumbria and the Isle of Man.

In the decades that followed, Britain was also invaded by a new religion. Christian teaching and faith was arriving, spreading inwards from those northern and western extremities from the early Celtic Church, and up from Kent with the arrival of Saint Augustine from Rome in AD597. Along with the Christians arrived the Christian Festivals and amongst them “All Hallows’ Day”, also known as “All Saints Day”, a day to remember those who had died for their beliefs.

Originally celebrated on 13th May, it was Pope Gregory who had the date of the All Hallows’ feast moved to 1st November sometime in the 8th century. It is thought that in doing so, he was attempting to replace or assimilate the Celtic Samhain festival of the dead with a related but church approved celebration.

The night or evening of Samhain therefore became known as All-hallows-even then Hallow Eve, still later Hallowe’en and then of course Halloween. A special time of the year when many believe that the spirit world can make contact with the physical world, a night when magic is at its most potent.

Throughout Britain, Halloween has traditionally been celebrated by children’s games such as bobbing for apples in containers full of water, telling ghost stories and the carving of faces into hollowed-out vegetables such as swedes and turnips. These faces would usually be illuminated from within by a candle, the lanterns displayed on window sills to ward off any evil spirits. The current use of pumpkins is a relatively modern innovation imported from the United States, and we can also extend the same debt of gratitude to our friends in America for that ‘quaint’ “trick-or-treat” tradition!

Link source: http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Halloween/
Link: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween

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After hunting for buried treasure for three decades – and not finding a great deal – even the most diligent of us might have given up.

But not Reg Mead and Richard Miles. The two amateur metal detectors kept up their search of the same area throughout the decades and have finally struck gold – or rather silver.

A coin in the hand: Archaeologists believe the hoard, found by two metal detectors, is worth about £10million

A coin in the hand: Archaeologists believe the hoard, found by two metal detectors, is worth about £10million

 

They have unearthed the largest hoard of Celtic coins ever found. Each one of the 30,000–50,000 coins is estimated to be worth around £200 each, putting the value of the haul at up to £10milion

  • Coins were buried to protect them from Julius Caesar
  • Three-quarter ton hoard estimated to be worth £10m
  • Two enthusiasts searched for three decades in field in Jersey

They are thought to be from the first century BC and were found buried 3ft deep under a hedge in a farmer’s field on Jersey.

Two thousand years ago the Channel Island – which remains a popular spot to stash large sums of money –  was a refuge for tribes fleeing what is now northern France from the invading Roman armies.

As the legions of Julius Ceasar drew closer, the treasure is thought to have been buried by a Celtic tribe called the Coriosolitae, in the hope it could be dug up once the danger had passed.

And there the coins – packed in clay and weighing a ton – have remained undisturbed until last week.

The men who discovered them, Mr Mead, 70, and Mr Miles, a customs officer in his 40s, suspected treasure was in the area three decades ago, when they heard rumours a farmer had found some silver pieces on his land. After a series of largely unsuccessful forays in the area, they unearthed a stash of 120 coins in February.

Mr Mead, a grandfather who lives with wife Ruth in St Clement, Jersey, said: ‘Richard found the first one and it was amazing – when you see him raising his hand above his head (saying) “got one”.’

The pair used a powerful metal detector known as a deepseeker to search for more treasure in the field and struck lucky last week

‘The machine picked up a really strong signal – so we immediately got in touch with professional archaeologists,’ Mr Mead said. ‘They started digging and we could not believe how many coins there were.

‘All of them were stuck together. I have been searching for things like this since 1959 and never found anything on this scale before.

‘We had been searching that land for 30 years.’

After four days of careful digging the hoard was hauled to the surface by crane. It will now be subject of an inquest to determine ownership rights

Mr Mead added: ‘I am absolutely numb at the moment. To find one haul of coins in a lifetime is rare, but to find two is just unheard of.’

The location of the find is being kept secret.

Neil Mahrer of Jersey Heritage Museum, who helped to excavate the money, said: ‘This is the biggest Celtic coin hoard ever found which is tremendously exciting.’

The previous record find was in 1935 at La Marquanderie in Jersey when more than 11,000 were discovered.

Mr Mahrer added that the coins, which are called staters and quarter staters, weigh as much as a 50p piece.

‘All the coins are silver and a common theme is a picture of a man or god’s head on one side of the coin and a horse on the other,’ he said. ‘They are covered in green corrosion because the silver is mixed with copper and copper corrodes. But they should come up again in a good condition.’

Dr Philip de Jersey, a former Celtic coin expert at Oxford University, said: ‘The find is very significant. It will add a huge amount of new information, not just about the coins themselves, but the people who were using them.’

Article by By COLIN FERNANDEZ – Daily Mail

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The lights are up, Noddy Holder’s voice is ringing in your ears and you’ve already eaten all your advent chocolate in a gluttonous frenzy. Yes it’s Christmas; that time of year reserved for frantic last-minute shopping, burnt turkeys and half-drunk carols in the front room. It’s also the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth, of course: and even that bears more than a passing similarity to the ancient god Mithra.
So where did some of the Christmas traditions we take for granted actually come from? The truth stretches back a lot longer than you might think. Here are ten yuletide customs born in the ancient world.

1. Christmas Trees

Our Christmas Tree We might curse the fact that we’re still picking pine needles out of our toes come spring, but the idea of decorating your house with greenery at winter goes back thousands of years. King Tut may never have seen the multicoloured mess we put up with nowadays, but he would have had date palm leaves scattered around his royal abodes on the winter solstice.Evergreens were celebrated in Egypt as a reminder that, though the winter was harsh and yielded little, spring would come just as inevitably. The palm also spawned a shoot each month, meaning that by December (as it would become known) Egyptians weilded the leaves to show that the year was over. They’d have decorated with entire forests if they ever saw a European winter.

Soon Egypt’s tree-hugging tradition spread north to Italy, during the height of the Roman Empire. Palms were substituted for firs and other native species, on which tapers would be lit and burned in honour of Saturn, god of agriculture and justice, during the notoriously raucous Saturnalia festival. The custom migrated north to Germany and Scandinavia during the Middle Ages, resulting in today’s obsession.

2. Christmas Carols

 

Carol Singing Whether you enjoy strangers caterwauling on your doorstep or not, you can thank ancient pagans and their joyous celebrations of the stars. Song and dance were commonplace at the earliest stone circles of Europe: some think even Stonehenge was built with acoustics in mind.

As with the trees, special songs would be created for the winter solstice. In fact songs would be sung for each of the seasons, but the Christmas tradition stuck with the newly-created Christian faith, eager to commemorate Jesus Christ.

The first ‘proper’ Christmas carol can be dated back to ancient Rome in 129 AD, when a Roman bishop decreed that a song called ‘Angel’s Hymn’ should be sung during the Christmas service at Rome. Fast forward a few hundred years, and a Greek Orthodox Priest named Cosmas of Jerusalem (or Maiuma) wrote another famous hymn. Soon, the whole of Europe was singing at Christmas. Incidentally the tradition of singing to people whether they want to or not was invented some time around the 17th century. If someone had shown Cosmas he might not have bothered.

3. Santa 

 Santa ClausMillions of people still think Santa owes his current scarlet clobber to canny ad men at Coca-Cola. But it’s a belief that should have been consigned to the ‘urban myth’ bin many moons ago. The western world’s enduring image of a red-and-white-robed Santa owes more to his ancient ecclesiastical roots then a syrupy soft drink. Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, an Ancient Greek town of Lycia, modern Turkey, during the 4th century AD. Popular throughout the Christian world, he’s also known as ‘Nicholas the Wonderworker’ thanks to the large number of miracles attributed to him.

Nicholas’ association with the reindeer-propelled giver of gifts we all know today stems from his propensity for leaving coins in the shoes of those who gave to him (see stockings story below). This grew into a European Catholic tradition, whereby the poor would leave their shoes in church overnight. Coins would then be donated by rich patrons in a homage to Saint Nick’s generosity. Present-hungry kids also can thank Nicholas’ status as the patron saint of children when they’re maniacally tearing open a box of badly-rendered plastic rubbish.

 The name ‘Santa Claus’, incidentally, didn’t come until the 19th century, as an evolution of the Dutch colloquialism Sinterklass. His name may have changed, but Santa still kept the ceremonial red robes of his ancient forebear. However many think the clothing may be an amalgam of Saint Nicholas’ and those of the Norman god of misrule, a red-robed character who would go about causing havoc during the winter solstice period. Santa didn’t always use reindeer to power him from house to house, either: many believe they are an evolution of the eight-legged grey horse of the Norse god Odin called Sleipnir, who could leap huge distances. Middle Ages children would leave out food for Sleipnir, a custom which continues to this day.

 4. Yule Log

  Yule LogLike most things associated with Yule, a pagan festival largely attributed to the Germanic peoples of the medieval period, the yule loge can trace its roots back through some of the world’s most successful ancient civilisations. Today the burning of the yule log has become a marginalised affair, and can be carried out pretty much any time leading up to Christmas Day. Yet the log began its life as a yuletide tradition thousands of years back, in the earliest cities of Sumer and Egypt.

Egyptians believed that the winter solstice period marked the death and rebirth of their national god Horus, the god of the sky and the sun. Thus light was shed to celebrate him, and since Egypt was about 5,000 years from electricity a log would be burned for 12 days. This tradition carried into the cities of Sumer and Mesopotamia via the winter festival of Zagmuk, and would later become one of the features of the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, when a yule-style log was burned for ten days to usher in the strength of Mithra.

Saxons and Visigoths would latch onto the log as a symbol of good, or light prevailing over darkness, or evil. Ashes were prized for their supposed magical powers. Christians, most likely taking their lines from the Romans, would later adopt the log as a symbol for the light of Christ bringing the world from darkness.

5. Christmas Cards

 

Christmas cardsChristmas cards may only have come into European vogue during the 15th century (thanks to the Germans, again). But their origins go back thousands of years before, to the greetings given in Ancient Egypt via ornately decorated papyrus. Related or not, the ancient Chinese are thought to be some of the greetings card’s earliest fans, exchanging simple messages to celebrate the New Year.

The invention of printing, and the west’s popularising of card-giving, wouldn’t arrive for another 1,500 years or so. You might expect the Chinese, with their longstanding obsession with fireworks (and blowing things up in general) to have invented the Christmas cracker too. Not so: desperate London sweet-seller Tom Smith invented it as an explosive panacea to his ailing bonbon trade, in 1847.

6. Mistletoe

  When Tara from IT starts waving mistletoe at you from across the office fix023with one suggestive eye on the stationery cupboard, you can thank ancient pagans for the group email the next day. Druids, to be precise: the ancient mystics saw the herb as having magical powers thanks to its evergreenness. Amongst its miraculous characteristics – curing illness, countering poison etc – mistletoe was thought to enhance virility.

Kissing under the mistletoe may date all the way back to the ancient Greeks; no strangers to free lovin’. Traditionally, kissing beneath the magical mistletoe would ensure a couple stayed happy. It was even used as a sort of natural proposal, and hung at marital ceremonies. Saxons then took on the mantle, associating the plant with Freya, goddess of love, beauty and fertility. Men could kiss any woman who found herself beneath a sprig of mistletoe, plucking a berry with each kiss. When the berries had all gone, the kissing was over. One suspects mistletoe was never in short supply at Saxon parties.

7. Presents

  For retailers at least, Christmas is the biggest gift of all: whether we want Oxford Street Xmasto or not (boo to those in the latter category) we’ll all be trapsing the high street in search of something we can pass off as thoughtful, with more than half an eye on our wallets. Yet as much as the world hasn’t always been obsessed with Furbies, novelty ties and shaving kits, we’ve been giving and receiving gifts since the beginnings of society. Archaeologists have found evidence of personal decoration as far back as 70,000 years ago – and French anthropologist Marcel Israel Mauss establishes social bonds which establish respect and interdependence – key to social cohesion.

Fast forward a few thousand years, and gift-giving was a key part of Saturnalia, when masters would ceremoniously be ruled over by their slaves. Gifts were also seen as an important way to keep up good spirits during the long, cold winter. Of course Christians point to the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh given to baby Jesus by the three wise men, though it’s worlds away from the capitalist scrums of today. The idea of presents being stuffed down the chimney pot may also have derived from ancient times. Germanic tribes would throw gifts onto fires as sacrifices for the gods. Thankfully my slippers stayed flame-free last year.

8. Feasting

 It wouldn’t be Christmas without unholy doses of Turkey (or Goose, or Christmas Dinnernuts), bread sauce, potatoes and, of course, the only batch of Brussels sprouts you’ll eat all year. But, like most Christmas customs, feasting to see in the day has its roots in the earliest civilisations on the planet. The Mesopotamian festival of Zagmuk would traditionally involve great feasting, as the height of the winter ended, days became longer and farming could continue once more. Food was one way to usher in the sun, as was the case in Egypt with Horus – and later became part of the Saturnalia festival, a Roman middle-finger to the harsh European winter.

Goose had been used since ancient Egyptian times as the meat of choice for Winter Solsticers, a tradition which continued in Britain until the 16th century. Some credit Henry VIII with having introduced turkeys to our Christmas platters. The Spanish allegedly took on the turkey mantle from their conquered Aztec subjects, who had long domesticated the far juicier bird.

The Romans frequently ate Christmas ham, a custom still followed in many countries today, to celebrate the life of Adonis, god of rebirth and vegetation, who was killed by the tusks of a wild boar sent either by Artemis or Ares. A boar’s head is still roasted ceremonially each year at Oxford University. Though fruits, berries and spices had been used to make cakes in ancient times, the Christmas Pud we all know and love (and hate in equal measure) didn’t enter the annals of history until the 15th century.

9. Stockings

 There are no steadfast stories as to the origin of the Christmas stocking, Stockings for Allbut one apocryphal tale has stood the test of time, true or not. And unsurprisingly it comes courtesy of Saint Nicholas’ legendary generosity. A poor man in Myra lost his wife, and was left to bring up his three young daughters alone. He became poor, and worried that he would not have enough money to pay any of his daughters’ dowries, as was the custom back then.

Enter Saint Nick, who, knowing the father would be too proud to accept money for his daughters, surreptitiously threw coins into his house, beside the hearth over a few nights. The family were drying their clothes by the fire at the time, so each day each daughter would wake up to receive a coin in their shoe or stockings. Some stories even say Nicholas chucked coins down the chimney; another reason why we have Santa throwing presents down the chimney nowadays.

10. The Nativity

 Pushing the boundaries of ‘ancient’ somewhat, you can thank Saint Francis of Assisi for that heart-in-mouth moment you forgot your one and only line, ‘Sorry no room’, in front of over a hundred parents armed with cameras and pitiful expressions (or was that just me?). The famous Catholic deacon set up a living tableau in memory of Christ’s birth, using the accounts in the Gospels of Luke and John, in Greccio, near Rome, in 1223.

The tradition spread fast, leading to the annual humiliation of children that occurs in nearly every school in the western world, if not more. Catholics in Spain and Latin America also celebrate Las Posadas, a ritual re-enactment of the tribulations Mary and Joseph enduring before giving birth to Jesus. This can take place on any day from the 16th to the 24th of December.

Link: http://heritage-key.com

 Happy Christmas everyone………

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A metal detector enthusiast located more than 100 bronze items, thought to be about 2,700 years old, on a farmland site which is being kept secret.

Having first found a spearhead, he decided not to disturb the ground and notified archaeologists, who were able to conduct a meticulous excavation.

The finds, from the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, include tools such as chisels, axe heads and gouges, and weapons including fragments of a sword and scabbard and more spearheads.

Experts are hugely excited about the hoard, which is still being catalogued. They are not prepared to guess at its value yet but say it is the biggest in the area since the Salisbury Hoard – now in the British Museum – was discovered in the 1990s.

Salisbury & South Wilts Museum director Adrian Green said: “It’s a very rare and important find, and it’s still fresh out of the ground. This was not previously a known archaeological site. The guy was just metal detecting as a hobby.

“What was significant about it was that he very responsibly told the finds liaison officer for the county, Katie Hinds, who is paid by the British Museum to record finds made by chance like this, rather than just digging it up himself and potentially losing valuable archaeological information.

“This was brilliant, and exactly what we want detectorists to do. She was able to arrange a specialist team to go and dig it up. That’s very important from an academic point of view.

“You could count on two hands the number of Bronze Age hoards which have been recorded professionally by archaeologists in this way.”

The hoard will go to the British Museum to be assessed and there will be an inquest to determine whether it is treasure trove.

If so, Salisbury Museum will have a chance to raise funds to buy it.

Neither the finder nor the landowner wish to be identified
Link : http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/news/9336972.Ancient_artefacts_unearthed_in_Tisbury/

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Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on November 1st. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night. For it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with joyous celebrations at dawn, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st, known today of course, as Halloween. 

Samhain (Scots Gaelic: Samhuinn) literally means “summer’s end.” In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween is known as O�che Shamhna, while in Wales it is Nos Calan Gaeaf, the eve of the winter’s calend, or first. With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints’ Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who the departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry of celebrations from Oct 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.

 

In the country year, Samhain marked the first day of winter, when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter of stable and byre. The hay that would feed them during the winter must be stored in sturdy thatched ricks, tied down securely against storms. Those destined for the table were slaughtered, after being ritually devoted to the gods in pagan times. All the harvest must be gathered in — barley, oats, wheat, turnips, and apples — for come November, the faeries would blast every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries remaining on the hedgerows. Peat and wood for winter fires were stacked high by the hearth. It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together baking, salting meat, and making preserves for the winter feasts to come. The endless horizons of summer gave way to a warm, dim and often smoky room; the symphony of summer sounds was replaced by a counterpoint of voices, young and old, human and animal. 

In early Ireland, people gathered at the ritual centers of the tribes, for Samhain was the principal calendar feast of the year.   The greatest assembly was the ‘Feast of Tara,’ focusing on the royal seat of the High King as the heart of the sacred land, the point of conception for the new year. In every household throughout the country, hearth-fires were extinguished. All waited for the Druids to light the new fire of the year — not at Tara, but at Tlachtga, a hill twelve miles to the north-west. It marked the burial-place of Tlachtga, daughter of the great druid Mogh Ruith, who may once have been a goddess in her own right in a former age. 

At at all the turning points of the Celtic year, the gods drew near to Earth at Samhain, so many sacrifices and gifts were offered up in thanksgiving for the harvest. Personal prayers in the form of objects symbolizing the wishes of supplicants or ailments to be healed were cast into the fire,  and at the end of the ceremonies, brands were lit from the great fire of Tara to re-kindle all the home fires of the tribe, as at Beltane. As they received the flame that marked this time of beginnings, people surely felt a sense of the kindling of new dreams, projects and hopes for the year to come. 

The Samhain fires continued to blaze down the centuries.  In the 1860s the Halloween bonfires were still so popular in Scotland that one traveler reported seeing thirty fires lighting up the hillsides all on one night, each surrounded by rings of dancing figures, a practice which continued up to the first World War. Young people and servants lit brands from the fire and ran around the fields and hedges of house and farm, while community leaders surrounded parish boundaries with a magic circle of light. Afterwards, ashes from the fires were sprinkled over the fields to protect them during the winter months — and of course, they also improved the soil. The bonfire provided an island of light within the oncoming tide of winter darkness, keeping away cold, discomfort, and evil spirits long before electricity illumined our nights. When the last flame sank down, it was time to run as fast as you could for home, raising the cry, “The black sow without a tail take the hindmost!”

Even today, bonfires light up the skies in many parts of the British Isles and Ireland at this season, although in many areas of Britain their significance has been co-opted by Guy Fawkes Day, which falls on November 5th, and commemorates an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the English Houses of Parliament in the 17th century. In one Devonshire village, the extraordinary sight of both men and women running through the streets with blazing tar barrels on their backs can still be seen! Whatever the reason, there will probably always be a human need to make fires against the winter’s dark.

Divination at Halloween  

Samhain was a significant time for divination, perhaps even more so than May or Midsummer’s Eve, because this was the chief of the three Spirit Nights. Divination customs and games frequently featured apples and nuts from the recent harvest, and candles played an important part in adding atmosphere to the mysteries. In Scotland, a child born at Samhain was said to be gifted with an d� shealladh, “The Two Sights” commonly known as “second sight,” or clairvoyance. 

Apple Magic
At the heart of the Celtic Otherworld grows an apple tree whose fruit has magical properties. Old sagas tell of heroes crossing the western sea to find this wondrous country, known in Ireland as Emhain Abhlach, (Evan Avlach) and in Britain, Avalon. At Samhain, the apple harvest is in, and old hearthside games, such as apple-bobbing, called apple-dookin’ in Scotland, reflect the journey across water to obtain the magic apple. 

Dookin’ for Apples
Place a large tub, preferably wooden, on the floor, and half fill it with water. Tumble in plenty of apples, and have one person stir them around vigorously with a long wooden spoon or rod of hazel, ash or any other sacred tree. 

Each player takes their turn kneeling on the floor, trying to capture the apples with their teeth as they go bobbing around. Each gets three tries before the next person has a go. Best to wear old clothes for this one, and have a roaring fire nearby so you can dry off while eating your prize!
If you do manage to capture an apple, you might want to keep it for a divination ritual, such as this one: 

The Apple and the Mirror
Before the stroke of midnight, sit in front of a mirror in a room lit only by one candle or the moon. Go into the silence, and ask a question. Cut the apple into nine pieces. With your back to the mirror, eat eight of the pieces, then throw the ninth over your left shoulder. Turn your head to look over the same shoulder, and you will see and in image or symbol in the mirror that will tell you your answer.

(When you look in the mirror, let your focus go “soft,” and allow the patterns made by the moon or candlelight and shadows to suggest forms, symbols and other dreamlike images that speak to your intuition.) 

Dreaming Stones
Go to a boundary stream and with closed eyes, take from the water three stones between middle finger and thumb, saying these words as each is gathered:                        

         I will lift the stone
           As Mary lifted it for her Son,
           For substance, virtue, and strength;
           May this stone be in my hand
           Till I reach my journey’s end.
 

(Scots Gaelic)
          Togaidh mise chlach,
          Mar a thog Moire da Mac,
          Air bhr�gh, air bhuaidh, ‘s air neart;
          Gun robh a chlachsa am dh�rn,
          Gus an ruig mi mo cheann uidhe.

Carry them home carefully and place them under your pillow. That night, ask for a dream that will give you guidance or a solution to a problem, and the stones will bring it for you.
Article from ‘The Stonehenge Stone Circle’ Website

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I don’t normally do articles on ancient sites outside of my own Country,  Britain.  However I felt this was a significant discovery in Europe and has a Stonehenge connection.

General plan of the early Celtic burial mound with sky constellations.

General plan of the early Celtic burial mound with sky constellations.

A huge early Celtic calendar construction has been discovered in the royal tomb of Magdalenenberg, nearby Villingen-Schwenningen in Germany’s Black Forest. The order of the burials around the central royal tomb fits exactly with the sky constellations of the Northern hemisphere.

Whereas Stonehenge was orientated towards the sun, the more than 100-meters-wide burial mound of Magdalenenberg was focused towards the moon. The builders positioned long rows of wooden posts in the burial mound to be able to focus on the Lunar Standstills. These Lunar Standstills happen every 18.6 year and were the corner stones of the Celtic calendar.

Archaeo-astronomic research resulted in a date of Midsummer 618 BCE, which makes it the earliest and most complete example of a Celtic calendar focused on the moon.

After the complete destruction of the Celtic culture by Rome, these types of calendars were completely forgotten.The full dimensions of the lost Celtic calendar system have now come to light again in the monumental burial mound of Magdalenenberg.

Like other European Iron Age tribal societies, the Celts practiced a polytheistic religion. Rites and sacrifices were carried out by priests known as druids. The Celts did not see their gods as having human shapes until late in the Iron Age. Celtic shrines were situated in remote areas such as hilltops, groves, and lakes.

Roman reports of the druids mention ceremonies being held in sacred groves. La Tène Celts built temples of varying size and shape, though they also maintained shrines at sacred trees and votive pools.

Druids fulfilled a variety of roles in Celtic religion, serving as priests and religious officials, but also as judges, sacrificers, teachers, and lore-keepers. Druids organized and ran religious ceremonies, and they memorized and taught the calendar. Other classes of druids performed ceremonial sacrifices of crops and animals for the perceived benefit of the community. Neo-druidism is still practiced today.

Sources: Examiner, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, via AlphaGalileo and Science Daily

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Archaeologists searching for King Arthur’s round table have found a “circular feature” beneath the historic King’s Knot in Stirling.

The King's Knot in the grounds of Stirling Castle

The King's Knot in the grounds of Stirling Castle

The King’s Knot, a geometrical earthwork in the former royal gardens below Stirling Castle, has been shrouded in mystery for hundreds of years.

Though the Knot as it appears today dates from the 1620s, its flat-topped central mound is thought to be much older.

Writers going back more than six centuries have linked the landmark to the legend of King Arthur.

Archaeologists from Glasgow University, working with the Stirling Local History Society and Stirling Field and Archaeological Society, conducted the first ever non-invasive survey of the site in May and June in a bid to uncover some of its secrets.

Their findings were show there was indeed a round feature on the site that pre-dates the visible earthworks.

Historian John Harrison, chair of the SLHS, who initiated the project, said: “Archaeologists using remote-sensing geophysics, have located remains of a circular ditch and other earth works beneath the King’s Knot.

“The finds show that the present mound was created on an older site and throws new light on a tradition that King Arthur’s Round Table was located in this vicinity.”

Stories have been told about the curious geometrical mound for hundreds of years — including that it was the Round Table where King Arthur gathered his knights.

Around 1375 the Scots poet John Barbour said that “the round table” was south of Stirling Castle, and in 1478 William of Worcester told how “King Arthur kept the Round Table at Stirling Castle”.

Sir David Lindsay, the 16th century Scottish writer, added to the legend in 1529 when he said that Stirling Castle was home of the “Chapell-royall, park, and Tabyll Round”.

It has also been suggested the site is partly Iron Age or medieval, or was used as a Roman fort.

Extensive work on the royal gardens was carried out in the early 17th century for Charles I, when the mound is thought to have taken its current form.

The first known record of the site being called the King’s Knot is from 1767, by which time it was being leased for pasture.

Locals refer to the grassy earthworks as the “cup and saucer”, but aerial photographs taken in 1980 showed three concentric ditches beneath and around the King’s Knot mound, suggesting an earthwork monument had preceded it.

The new survey — funded by Historic Scotland and Stirling City Heritage Trust — used the latest scientific techniques to showing lost structures and features up to a metre below the ground.

It also revealed a series of ditches south of the main mound, as well as remains of buildings, and more recent structures, including modern drains which appear at the northern end of the gardens.

Mr Harrison, who has studied the King’s Knot for 20 years, said: “It is a mystery which the documents cannot solve, but geophysics has given us new insights.

“Of course, we cannot say that King Arthur was there, but the feature which surrounds the core of the Knot could explain the stories and beliefs that people held.”

Archaeologist Stephen Digney, who coordinated the project, said: “The area around Stirling Castle holds some of the finest medieval landscapes in Europe.

“This investigation is an exciting first step in a serious effort to explore, explain and interpret them. The results so far suggest that Scotland’s monarchs integrated an ancient feature into their garden, something we know happened in other countries too.

“We are looking forward to the next stage in September when we hope to refine some of the details.”

Dr. Kirsty Owen, Cultural Heritage Adviser at Historic Scotland, added: “The project has the potential to add to our knowledge of the landscape context of the medieval and early modern occupation of Stirling Castle.

“The ditches identified may intriguingly be part of historically documented earlier garden features, or if prehistoric in origin could add to our scant knowledge of prehistoric activity at Stirling Castle.

“We look forward to seeing the results of the next phase of investigations.”Futher work including a ground-penetrating radar survey, is now planned to take place next month to find out more.

A small display of the interim results can be seen close to the site at the Smith Museum.

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CELTIC AND ROMAN TOWNS

The Celts who lived in Britain before the Roman invasion of 43 AD could be said to have created the first towns. Celts in southern England lived in hill forts, which were quite large settlements. (Some probably had thousands of inhabitants). They were places of trade, where people bought and sold goods and also places were craftsmen worked. The Romans called them oppida.

Old England MapHowever the Romans created the first settlements that were undoubtedly towns. Some Roman towns grew up near forts. The soldiers provided a market for the townspeople’s goods. Some were founded as settlements for retired legionaries. Some were founded on the sites of Celtic settlements.

Roman towns were usually laid out in a grid pattern. In the centre was the forum or market place. It was lined with public buildings.

Life in Roman towns was highly civilised with public baths and temples. At least some of the buildings were of stone with glazed windows. Rich people had wall paintings and mosaics.

However Roman towns would seem small to us. The largest town, London, may have had a population of only 35,000. The next largest town was probably Colchester with a population of around 12,000. Roman Cirencester may have had a population of 10,000. Most towns were smaller. Roman Chichester probably only had around 3,000 to 4,000 inhabitants.

Then in the 4th century Roman towns declined and in the 5th century town life broke down.

SAXON TOWNS

From the 5th century Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded England. At first the invaders avoided living in towns. However as trade grew some towns grew up. London revived by the 7th century (although the Saxon town was, at first, outside the walls of the old Roman town). Southampton was founded at the end of the 7th century. Hereford was founded in the 8th century. Furthermore Ipswich grew up in the 8th century and York revived.

However towns were rare in Saxon England until the late 9th century. At that time Alfred the Great created a network of fortified settlements across his kingdom called burhs. In the event of a Danish attack men could gather in the local burh. However burhs were more than forts. They were also market towns.

Some burhs were started from scratch but many were created out of the ruins of old Roman towns. Places like Winchester rose, phoenix like, from the ashes of history.

TOWNS IN THE MIDDLE AGES

The thing that would strike us most about medieval towns would be their small size. By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 London probably had a population of about 18,000. Winchester, the capital of England, probably had about 8,000 people. At that time a ‘large’ town, like Lincoln or Dublin had about 4,000 or 5,000 inhabitants and a ‘medium sized’ town, like Colchester had about 2,500 people. Many towns were much smaller.

However during the 12th and 13th centuries most towns grew much larger. (London may have had a population of around 45,000). Furthermore many new towns were created across Britain. Trade and commerce were increasing and there was a need for new towns. Some were created from existing villages but some were created from scratch. In those days you could create a town simply by starting a market. There were few shops so if you wished to buy or sell anything you had to go to a market. Once one was up and running craftsmen and merchants would come to live in the area and a town would grow.

In the Middle Ages most towns were given a charter by the king or the lord of the manor. It was a document granting the townspeople certain rights. Usually it made the town independent and gave the people the right to form their own local government.

In 1348-49 British towns were devastated by the Black Death. However most of them recovered and continued to prosper. Another danger in medieval towns was fire and many suffered in severe conflagrations.

ENGLISH TOWNS 1500-1800

In Tudor times towns remained small (although they were a vital part of the economy). The only exception was London. From a population of only about 60,000 or 70,000 at the end of the 15th century it grew to about 250,000 people by 1600. Other towns in Britain were much smaller. The next largest town was probably Bristol, with a population of only around 20,000 in 1600.

Nevertheless in the 16th century towns grew larger as trade and commerce grew. The rise in town’s populations was despite outbreaks of plague. It struck all the towns at intervals in the 16th and 17th century but seems to have died out after 1665. Each time it struck a significant part of the town’s population died but they were soon replaced by people from the countryside.

In the 18th century conditions in most towns improved (at least for the well off). Bodies of men called Improvement Commissioners or Paving Commissioners were formed with powers to pave, clean and light the streets (with oil lamps). Many towns also employed night watchmen. Most towns gained theatres and private libraries. However despite some improvements 18th century towns would seem dirty and crowded to us.

TOWNS IN THE 19TH CENTURY

From the late 18th century the industrial revolution transformed Britain. Many villages or small market towns rapidly grew into industrial cities. However, although most towns gained gas light in other ways conditions were appalling. They were dirty, overcrowded and unsanitary. Lack of building regulations meant poor peoples houses were often hovels. Not surprisingly British towns suffered outbreaks of cholera in 1832 and in 1848.

However in the late 19th century things improved. Most towns built sewers and created a clean water supply. New housing regulations meant that new houses were much better. Furthermore public parks and public libraries were created. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th most towns changed to electric street lighting.

At the end of the 19th century transport in towns was improved. From c.1880 horse drawn trams ran in the streets of many towns. At the beginning of the 20th century they were replaced by electric trams. In the 1930s most trams were replaced by trolley buses (buses that ran on overhead lines). However by the late 1950s most trolley buses had been replaced by motor buses.

Meanwhile a new kind of town had arisen – the seaside town. At the end of the 18th century spending time by the sea became fashionable with the wealthy. At first only they could afford it but from the mid-19th century trains made it easier for poorer people to reach the seaside. From the 1870s bank holidays (and for some skilled workers paid annual holidays) made the day at the seaside popular and many resorts boomed.

TOWNS IN THE 20TH CENTURY

At the beginning of the 20th century councils began the work of demolishing the dreadful 19th century slums. They also began building council houses. The work of slum clearance continued in the 1920s and 1930s. More council houses were built at that time. However most of the houses built in between the wars were private.

The 1920s and 1930s were difficult ones for northern towns as the traditional industries such as coal mining, ship building and textiles all declined. They suffered mass unemployment. However in the Midlands and the South some towns prospered with new industries such as electronics and car making.

During the Second World War many British towns suffered severely from German bombing. So many people were made homeless that after the war ‘prefab’ houses were built. They were made in sections in factories and could be assembled in a few days.

In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s slum clearance began anew. Vast swathes of old houses were demolished and replaced with council accommodation. Unfortunately much of it was in the form of high-rise flats, which suffered from social problems. In the late 20th century the emphasis changed from demolishing old houses to renovating them.

Furthermore following an act of 1946 new towns were built. Villages or small market towns were selected to take the ‘overflow’ populations of large cities like London. The new towns were greatly enlarged. New houses and factories were built to take the ‘immigrants’ from the big cities. It was the first time since the Middle Ages that large numbers of new towns were created. Among the new towns were Andover, Basingstoke, Crawley and Stevenage,

Meanwhile many town centres were ‘redeveloped’ in the 1960s and new shopping centres and car parks were built. Ironically at the same time increasingly strenuous efforts were made to protect old buildings.

In the late 20th century many northern towns suffered from the decline and even extinction of traditional manufacturing industries. However at the end of the century many managed to reinvent themselves and attract new service industries. In some towns trams were reintroduced.

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Few things have helped create the look of the English countryside more British Hedgerowthan hedgerows. Hedges have been used for a long time in England, yet for all their antiquity, much of the familiar checkerboard pattern they help create is of very recent vintage.

Hedges have been used as field boundaries in England since the times of the Romans. Excavations at Farmoor (Oxon) reveals Roman hedges made of thorn. The Anglo-Saxons also used hedgerows extensively, and many that were used as estate boundaries still exist. Although these early hedges were used as field enclosures or to mark the boundaries of one person’s property, there was no systematic planting of hedges in England until the first enclosure movement of the 13th century.

The pressures of population expansion led to a widespread clearing of land for agriculture, and the new fields needed to be marked clearly.

Later, farming expansion in the 15th century led to more widespread hedge planting, but the greatest use of hedges came in the Enclosure Movement of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Enclosure Movement is a fancy term that historians use to describe the habit of wealthy landowners enclosing common fields for their own use, usually for the purpose of raising sheep.

Hedges are used as field boundaries in the lowland regions of England. In the highlands, such as the Yorkshire Dales, dry stone walls are commonly used.

Aerial Hedgerow ViewSo great was the need for hedges during the Enclosures, that a whole new industry sprang up supplying hawthorn plants to be used in planting new hedges.

In the process of enclosure many rural labourers lost their livelihood and had to move to the new industrial urban centres. So the next time you sigh over the timeless quality of the English hedge-shaped countryside, spare a thought for the misery and hardship caused by the erection of hedged fields to much of England’s rural population.

Hedge Facts
When: Roman, Anglo-Saxon, 13thC, 15thC, 18th-19thC
Where: Lowland areas
Why: Field boundaries
How
: planting bushes or trees and pleating them together at an angle as they grew
Materials: huge variety based on local availability, but the most common were hawthorn, blackthorn, and holly

A lot of effort and ingenuity has been brought to bear on the problem of dating hedges. Several historians have advanced mathematical formulae for calculating the age of a hedgerow based on the number of plant species found in a certain length of hedge. As an extremely rough rule of thumb, one species of hedge plant per 100 years seems to get close to the truth.

Unfortunately, recent years have seen the disappearance of many miles of English hedgerows. It is easier for modern farmers to string new metal fence wire than to maintain ancient hedgerows. Conservation efforts have introduced incentives to farmers to maintain the hedges, and losses have slowed somewhat. Estimates vary, but there may be upwards of 500,000 miles of hedgerows in England today.

Links:
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Celtic Britain
(The Iron Age) c. 600 BC – 50 AD

Who were they? The Iron Age is the age of the “Celt” in Britain. Over the 500 or so years leading up to the first Roman invasion a Celtic culture established itself throughout the British Isles. Who were these Celts?

For a start, the concept of a “Celtic” people is a modern and somewhat

Celtic Britain was dominated by a number of tribes, each with their own well-defined territory. It is thanks to Roman chroniclers, such as Strabo, Julius Caesar, and Diodorus, that the names of individual tribes are known to us today, albeit in Romanized form.

Celtic Britain was dominated by a number of tribes, each with their own well-defined territory. It is thanks to Roman chroniclers, such as Strabo, Julius Caesar, and Diodorus, that the names of individual tribes are known to us today, albeit in Romanized form.

romantic reinterpretation of history. The “Celts” were warring tribes who certainly wouldn’t have seen themselves as one people at the time.

The “Celts” as we traditionaly regard them exist largely in the magnificence of their art and the words of the Romans who fought them. The trouble with the reports of the Romans is that they were a mix of reportage and political propaganda. It was politically expedient for the Celtic peoples to be coloured as barbarians and the Romans as a great civilizing force. And history written by the winners is always suspect.

Where did they come from? What we do know is that the people we call Celts gradually infiltrated Britain over the course of the centuries between about 500 and 100 B.C. There was probably never an organized Celtic invasion; for one thing the Celts were so fragmented and given to fighting among themselves that the idea of a concerted invasion would have been ludicrous.

The Celts were a group of peoples loosely tied by similar language, religion, and cultural expression. They were not centrally governed, and quite as happy to fight each other as any non-Celt. They were warriors, living for the glories of battle and plunder. They were also the people who brought iron working to the British Isles.

The advent of iron. The use of iron had amazing repercussions. First, it changed trade and fostered local independence. Trade was essential during the Bronze Age, for not every area was naturally endowed with the necessary ores to make bronze. Iron, on the other hand, was relatively cheap and available almost everywhere.

Hill forts. The time of the “Celtic conversion” of Britain saw a huge growth in the number of hill forts throughout the region. These were often small ditch and bank combinations encircling defensible hilltops. Some are small enough that they were of no practical use for more than an individual family, though over time many larger forts were built. The curious thing is that we don’t know if the hill forts were built by the native Britons to defend themselves from the encroaching Celts, or by the Celts as they moved their way into hostile territory.

Usually these forts contained no source of water, so their use as long term settlements is doubtful, though they may have been useful indeed for withstanding a short term siege. Many of the hill forts were built on top of earlier causewayed camps.

Celtic family life.
The basic unit of Celtic life was the clan, a sort of extended family. The term “family” is a bit misleading, for by all accounts the Celts practiced a peculiar form of child rearing; they didn’t rear them, they farmed them out. Children were actually raised by foster parents. The foster father was often the brother of the birth-mother. Got it?

Clans were bound together very loosely with other clans into tribes, each of which had its own social structure and customs, and possibly its own local gods.

Housing. The Celts lived in huts of arched timber with walls of wicker and roofs of thatch. The huts were generally gathered in loose hamlets. In several places each tribe had its own coinage system.

Farming. The Celts were farmers when they weren’t fighting. One of the interesting innovations that they brought to Britain was the iron plough. Earlier ploughs had been awkward affairs, basically a stick with a pointed end harnessed behind two oxen. They were suitable only for ploughing the light upland soils. The heavier iron ploughs constituted an agricultural revolution all by themselves, for they made it possible for the first time to cultivate the rich valley and lowland soils. They came with a price, though. It generally required a team of eight oxen to pull the plough, so to avoid the difficulty of turning that large a team, Celtic fields tended to be long and narrow, a pattern that can still be seen in some parts of the country today.

The lot of women. Celtic lands were owned communally, and wealth seems to have been based largely on the size of cattle herd owned. The lot of women was a good deal better than in most societies of that time. They were technically equal to men, owned property, and could choose their own husbands. They could also be war leaders, as Boudicca (Boadicea) later proved.

Language. There was a written Celtic language, but it developed well into Christian times, so for much of Celtic history they relied on oral transmission of culture, primarily through the efforts of bards and poets. These arts were tremendously important to the Celts, and much of what we know of their traditions comes to us today through the old tales and poems that were handed down for generations before eventually being written down.

Druids. Another area where oral traditions were important was in the training of Druids. There has been a lot of nonsense written about Druids, but they were a curious lot; a sort of super-class of priests, political advisors, teachers, healers, and arbitrators. They had their own universities, where traditional knowledge was passed on by rote. They had the right to speak ahead of the king in council, and may have held more authority than the king. They acted as ambassadors in time of war, they composed verse and upheld the law. They were a sort of glue holding together Celtic culture.

Religion. From what we know of the Celts from Roman commentators, who are, remember, witnesses with an axe to grind, they held many of their religious ceremonies in woodland groves and near sacred water, such as wells and springs. The Romans speak of human sacrifice as being a part of Celtic religion. One thing we do know, the Celts revered human heads.

Celtic warriors would cut off the heads of their enemies in battle and display them as trophies. They mounted heads in doorposts and hung them from their belts. This might seem barbaric to us, but to the Celt the seat of spiritual power was the head, so by taking the head of a vanquished foe they were appropriating that power for themselves. It was a kind of bloody religious observance.

The Iron Age is when we first find cemeteries of ordinary people’s burials (in hole-in-the-ground graves) as opposed to the elaborate barrows of the elite few that provide our main records of burials in earlier periods.

The Celts at War. The Celts loved war. If one wasn’t happening they’d be sure to start one. They were scrappers from the word go. They arrayed themselves as fiercely as possible, sometimes charging into battle fully naked, dyed blue from head to toe, and screaming like banshees to terrify their enemies.

They took tremendous pride in their appearance in battle, if we can judge by the elaborately embellished weapons and paraphernalia they used. Golden shields and breastplates shared pride of place with ornamented helmets and trumpets.

The Celts were great users of light chariots in warfare. From this chariot, drawn by two horses, they would throw spears at an enemy before dismounting to have a go with heavy slashing swords. They also had a habit of dragging families and baggage along to their battles, forming a great milling mass of encumbrances, which sometimes cost them a victory, as Queen Boudicca would later discover to her dismay.

As mentioned, they beheaded their opponents in battle and it was considered a sign of prowess and social standing to have a goodly number of heads to display.

The main problem with the Celts was that they couldn’t stop fighting among themselves long enough to put up a unified front. Each tribe was out for itself, and in the long run this cost them control of Britain.

(Note: The terms “England”, “Scotland”, and “Wales” are used purely to indicate geographic location relative to modern boundaries – at this time period, these individual countries did not exist).

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