Sunday 31 May 2015


This is a knobstick. 

A knobstick is a wooden walking stick which has a knob for a handle. The stick is commonly the length of a walking stick (distance from the floor to one's wrist with elbow slightly bent).  

A knobstick can also be used as a club or a cudgel. The heavy knob can be used for striking as well as parrying and disarming an opponent. The use of knobsticks as weapons has a particularly long tradition in Ireland. 

In Ireland, the knobstick is called "shillelagh". There are two etymologies for this word. 

First one is that it is an anglicization of the Gaelic "Sail Éille" which means a "heavy walking stick with a strap". Many shillelaghs from last few centuries have a strap attached, similar to commercially made walking sticks, to place around the holder's wrist. Hence the name. 

The second one says that the word shillelagh comes from the name of the barony of Shillelagh which was famous for its oak forests. The quality of its oak cudgel was supposedly such that the word “shillelagh” by antonomasia became synonymous with the Irish stick, regardless of its material. 

However the earliest names for these types of sticks were "Cleith ailpín", which just means a stick with a knob, a knobstick, or "bata" which means any stick, club. As a matter of fact, the name "shillelagh" is by and large an Irish American word, never used by Irish country people.The most common words used in Ireland were a Blackthorn, an ash plant or in Irish camóg (crooked stick), buinneán (sapling).

Here you can see various types of the Irish shillelagh sticks. You  can see that the ones on the left have straps attached to them and are specifically made as weapons, looking more like batons than walking sticks. The ones on the right are the traditional old style knobsticks. 

Shillelaghs were traditionally made from blackthorn (sloe) wood (Prunus spinosa) or oak. Wood from the root was prized as it was less prone to cracking during use. The bark was peeled and the wood was smeared with butter or lard, and then placed up a chimney to cure, giving the shillelagh its typical black shiny appearance. Some shillelaghs were hollowed at the knob end and filled with molten lead to increase the weight beyond the typical two pounds; this sort of shillelagh is known as a 'loaded stick'. In Ireland the stick fighting using shillelagh knobsticks was called "bataireacht" or "boiscín". In Irish the word "bata" means stick so "bataireacht" literally means stick-fighting. The other name used for knobstick fighting, "boiscín", is a bit more difficult to translate. The Irish phrase "babhta boiscín" means fencing bout, where the word "boiscín" means fencing and the word "babhta" means bout, a short period of intense activity. So the word "boiscín" means fencing, stick fighting, but ultimately carrying and using a knobstick. But we also have the Irish word "bóisc", which means to boast, to show of. I believe that "boiscín", carrying and using a knobstick, and "bóisc" to show off, to boast are related words with related meanings. The reason why I believe that this is the case will become obvious soon. 

We have the written records that the Irish have used various sticks and cudgels as weapons of self-defence for centuries. 

The earliest reference to shillelaghs can be found in the Ulster Cycle’s mythological tale "The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel". The owner of the hostel had a sword but his warriors were described as such:

“Thereafter Da Derga came to them, with thrice fifty warriors, each of them having a long head of hair to the hollow of his polls, and a short cloak to their buttocks. Speckled-green drawers they wore, and in their hands were thrice fifty great clubs of thorn with bands of iron.”

Gerald of Wales says in his "The Topography of Ireland" written in the 12th century, that the Irish: "carry axes, borrowed from Norwegians and Ostmen, as others carry walking sticks and that they grab these axes one handed". 

In the St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny, on the side of the tumb of James Shortals, are carved figures of St. Peter, Paul, James, Thomas, Bartholomew and John. 

Each saint carries a book, presumably a Bible and a weapon. St James carries a knobstick. 

Thomas Gainsford says in his "The Glory of England" written in 1618, that the Irish warriors: "wear trousers, mantle, and a cap of steel; they are curious about their horses tending to witchcraft; they have no saddles, but strange fashioned pads, their horses are for the most part unshod behind: they use axes, staves (walking sticks), broad swords, and darts.”

By the 18th century "bataireacht", the knobstick fighting became increasingly associated with Irish gangs called "factions". Irish faction fights involved large groups of men (and sometimes women) who engaged in melees at county fairs, weddings, funerals, or any other convenient gathering. Historians such as Carolyn Conley, believe that this reflected a culture of recreational violence. Two or more groups assembled to fight using mostly rocks and sticks, very often resulting in the death of many participants. Interestingly even though it caused death, the practice of faction fighting was considered good fun and in fact people brought to justice for killing people in faction fights were often exonerated. But not all of these fights were done with playful intent; in fact many were done to settle feuds and political or religious tensions especially in the North. This is why James S. Donnelly, Jr argued in his "Irish Peasants: Violence & Political Unrest, 1780", that "faction fighting had class and political overtones".

By the early 19th century, faction gangs had organised into larger regional federations, which coalesced from the old Whiteboys, into the Caravat and Shanavest factions. Beginning in Munster the Caravat and Shanavest "war" erupted sporadically throughout the 19th century and caused some serious disturbances. 

As the faction fights became increasingly repressed and other sports such as hurling were promoted, bataireacht as a sport (I love this), slowly faded away by the turn of the 20th century. Although still documented sporadically, it has become mostly an underground practice saved by a few families who still handed down their own styles. 

You can read more about the shillelagh stick fighting in the excellent book Shillelagh: The Irish Fighting Stick by John W. Hurley and in the stick fighting martial arts blog written by Maxime Chouinard in the article What is Irish stick fighting? Pearson’s Magazine, 11 (January 1901) published a whole ilustrated tutorial on knobstick fighting.

At the end of this part about the Irish knobsticks, here is probably the most important bit of information:

Folklorist Padraic Colum says in "A Treasure of Irish Folklore" that the shillelagh stick was a badge of honor for those who carried it. When they were very young, Irish boys were exposed to the traditions of the bata, and when they came of age, to carry a stick was viewed as a passage into manhood. 

Why this is so important will become clear when I start talking about Slavic knobsticks.

Now here is a question: was this type of stick ever used anywhere else or was this a specific Irish type weapon

Well sticks, together with stones, were the earliest weapons used by people. Battle club is a common weapon found in every part of the world. A knob stick is just a stick with a knob at the top which makes it heavier and increases the power of the strike. 

This is an Oceanic battle club:

This is an Australian Aborigine battle club called waddy. 

A waddy is a heavy club constructed of carved timber. Waddies have been used in hand to hand combat, and were capable of splitting a shield, and killing or stunning prey. In addition to this they could be employed as a projectile as well as used to make fire and make ochre. They were also used for punishing those who broke Aboriginal law. 

Then we have the Native American ball headed war club. No one knows when the ball headed war club first appeared. It was in common use in the early 16th century and was popular with the war-like tribes of the American eastern seaboard, eventually spreading to the Great Lakes region and northern Canada all the way to the Great Plains west of the Mississippi.

It has been speculated that the wide adoption of this weapon was the result of the fact that it was relatively easy to manufacture, in that it required little or no metal, and because it was unspeakably effective.

The better clubs were carved from a naturally curved hardwood root burl, sapling or tree branch. This insured that the wood grain would curve in parallel lines though the handle and into the ball itself, avoiding the pitfalls of cross grain which could weaken the club and cause it to break at an ill-timed moment. Hornbeam (Iron Wood), a hard dense timber that was strong and was resistant to impact forces, was the most preferred material, even over such stalwart choices as Ash, Maple, Oak and Hickory. In battle, a dedicated blow from the ball of the club could easily break a limb or crush a skull.

In Southeastern Africa we find a battle walking knobstick called "knobkierie".

A Knobkierie, also spelled knobkerrie, knopkierie or knobkerry, is a form of club used mainly in Southern and Eastern Africa. Typically they have a large knob at one end and can be used for throwing at animals in hunting or for clubbing an enemy's head. The knobkierie is carved from a branch thick enough for the knob, with the rest being whittled down to create the shaft.

The name derives from the Afrikaans word knop, meaning knot or ball and the Nama (one of the Khoekhoe languages) word kierie, meaning cane or walking stick. Knobkieries were an indispensable weapon of war, particularly among southern Nguni tribes such as the Zulu (as the iwisa) and the Xhosa. Knobkieries are still widely carried, especially in rural areas, while in times of peace it serves as a walking-stick. The head, or knob, is often ornately carved with faces or shapes that have symbolic meaning. Like this one from Tanzania.

Knobkierie is carried in the left hand by the middle, a certain length projecting above and below the hand, and used for parrying. Both portions above and below the hand are made use of. So the knobkierie is used in the exact same way as shillelagh. Apparently these knobsticks are also called initiation sticks and are only allowed to be carried by men as they are a symbolo of manhood.

Battle clubs later evolved into battle maces. mace is a blunt weapon, a type of club or virge that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver powerful blows. A mace typically consists of a strong, heavy, wooden or metal shaft, often reinforced with metal, featuring a head made of stone, copper, bronze, iron, or steel.

These are two examples of Medieval European battle maces with iron heads:

The war mace, was started being used in the Roman army from the 3rd century AD. What is interesting is that at the same time when the battle maces start being used by the Roman army, a Roman villa was built in what is today a village of Nennig, in the Saarland, Germany. Its atrium contained beautiful floor mosaics. One of the mosaic panels depicts two people fighting each other using Irish style knowbsticks and whips. 

These are not gladiators as gladiators did not use knobsticks and whips as weapons. These are normal gladiator weapons:

Arcus: Bow and Sagitta an arrow
Contus: (Pike or lance)
Acinaces: Single edged cavalry sword 
Fascina: Tridents, harpoons
Gladius: Sword
Gladius Graecus: Leaf shaped sword
Hasta: Spear for thrusting
Iaculum: Casting net 
Lancea: short javelin, or spear
Parmula: Small, light shield
Pilum: Long, heavy throwing spear
Plumbatae or martiobarbuli (lead-weighted darts)
Pompeianus: Sword
Pugnum: Small shield used for thrusting
Pugio: Dagger
Sagitta: Arrows
Semispathae: Half-swords
Sica: Short, curved sword or scimitar
Spatha: Long broadsword
Verutum: Short, light throwing spear

The Roman Centurion carried the vitis or vine staff which was a swagger stick about three feet in length originally made of grape vine. The vitis stick was first introduced at about the time of the Punic Wars, and was a distinction, symbol, of rank. It is often prominently featured on sepulchral monuments for dead or missing centurions as a sign of their status. Such monuments show the cudgel in a variety of forms - sometimes straight with a rounded top, sometimes knotted, and sometimes sinuous.

Here is a picture of two Roman plebeians fighting with what looks like vitis sticks (from Roman cloaks and other outwear collection):

So the sticks on this Roman fresco could have been Roman vitis sticks. However the shape of the sticks on the fresco is not the same as the shape of the vitis sticks. So I am not sure if this is the same weapon or not. In any case there are still question to be answered: Who are these two people depicted on a third century Roman mosaic from Germania who were fighting each other using shillelaghs and why are they fighting? Was this "settling a dispute" in a traditional way or some kind of ceremony or sport? But the main question is why were vitis sticks introduced int the Roman army around the time of the Punic wars? Is the introduction of these sticks a result of the increased number of non Latin soldiers in the Roman army, who brought with them the knobstick as the status symbol? And if so who were these soldiers? Celts?

Were knobsticks used by Germanic tribes as weapons? I don't know whether Germanic  people used these types of knobsticks, but I know that Slavs did. These are some examples of the knobstick heads from Russian literature. 

We know that Slavs used these knobsticks as weapons. But we also know that they used them as ceremonial sticks, as symbols of power. How do we know this? Because of this 9th century fresco from the Balkans:

This is a fresco entitled "Bogumils expel St Naum" from the monastery of St Naum from Ohrid Makedonija. Saint Naum (Bulgarian and Macedonian:Свети Наум, Sveti Naum), also known as Naum of Ohrid or Naum of Preslav (c. 830 – December 23, 910) was a medieval Bulgarian writer, enlightener, one of the seven Apostles of the First Bulgarian Empire and missionary among the Slavs. He was among the disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius and is associated with the creation of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic scripts. Naum was among the founders of the Pliska Literary School and is venerated as a saint in the Orthodox Church. But on this fresco he is not venerated. He is being chased away by the Slavic elders wielding knobsticks. This is a drawing based on the fresco on which it is much easier to see what is going on:

Here is the same scene depicted on an icon "Bogumils are expelling St Naum" from "Чаусидис Н. Дуалистички слики, с. 427":

I love the bandannas worn by the Slavic elders. Early Slavic Ninjas...:) The Slavic elders were known as "starac" or "djed" both words simply meaning the elder, the grandfather, the ancestor. They were the carriers of the power in the old Slavic social structure organized around the family, extended family (zadruga), clan (rod) and tribe (pleme), all linked through direct paternal descent and relation. Bogumil priests were also called "djed" meaning elder. Who were Bogumils, and were they even Christians is still a mystery. Bogumils are believed to have been the early Slavic Christians. But it is much more likely that they were, what was known in Medieval Serbia as "poluverci", meaning "half believers". What this means is that their faith was basically a mixture of old Slavic faith with a thin veneer of Christianity applied on it. What we do know about Bogumils is that they fought against East Roman Hellenization of the Balkans. They also fought against the destruction of the old tribal social order which was based on kinship and respect of the elders, and which was forcefully being replaced by the new feudal social order based on power. 

You can see that the elders are all wearing the same clothes and all carrying the same stick. And that the stick is exactly the same type of the knobstick that we can see St James carrying in the St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny. Are these knobsticks just weapons or are they ceremonial sticks? I believe that they are both weapons and ceremonial sticks. Do we have any proof that knobsticks were used as ceremonial sticks. Well we do. The proof for this lies in the Irish and Serbian languages. 

In Serbian we have these two words:

budžiti - to stick something stick like into something tight, like a penis into vagina
budža - knobstick, but also anything that sticks out, that can be stuck into something else, like a penis. Also someone important, someone who is sticking out...

The Noric language, or Eastern Celtic, is an unclassified Continental Celtic language. It is attested in only two fragmentary inscriptions from the Roman province of Noricum (one in Grafenstein, Austria, the other in Ptuj, Slovenia), which do not provide enough information for any conclusions about the nature of the language to be drawn. However, the language was probably similar to the other Celtic languages near to it, such as Gaulish. Due to the scanty evidence it is unknown when it became extinct.

The Ptuj inscription, discovered in 1894, is written right to left in a northern Italic alphabet and reads:


This is interpreted as two personal names: Artebudz [son] of Brogduos. The name Artebudz may mean "bear penis" (compare Welsh arth "bear" and Irish bod "penis")...

Or "budz" could be Serbian "budža" meaning penis but also a battle club or an important person??? 

In Brittany we find "Penn Bazh" which is exactly the same as the Irish knobstick:

Penn Bazh was and still is used as a weapon. Pen Bazh literally means head stick where the word "bazh" means stick, basically Celtic "budz" or Serbian "budža"Interestingly the English word "bash" meaning "to strike violently," and which was first attested in the 1640s, could come from the same root as Breton "bazh". The etymological dictionary says that this word is perhaps of Scandinavian origin, from Old Norse *basca meaning to strike.  Cognates are Swedish basa "to baste, whip, flog, lash," Danish baske "to beat, strike, cudgel". Or the whole group might be independently derived and echoic. Well considering that none of the Norse words have further etymology, I would suggest that they are borrowing form Celtic and that all of them come from the same root "budža" meaning stick, knobstick, baton...

Further on, Irish etymology for the word "bod" says that it comes from: 
Middle Irish bot (“tail; membrum virile”), from Proto-Celtic *buzdos (“tail, penis”), perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *gwosdʰos (“piece of wood”).
Interestingly Serbian word "buzdovan" means a knobstick, battle club exactly like the word "budža". So we have two old Irish words found in Serbian both meaning the same thing: penis (knob), knobstick. 

First I have to say that a piece of wood isn't in any way related to virility and can not be the root for the word for penis. In my post about the old root word "bo" meaning to stab with something pointy, I explained that the most likely etymology for the word "bod" comes from the root "bo", "bod" meaning to stab, something pointy used for stabbing, poking. This seems a lot more plausible than the root being a word that means a piece of wood. In Serbian, the word for extremity, anything sticking out of the body, like a leg or an arm or a penis is "ud". The extremity used for "pricking", sticking (stabbing) into something (vagina) would be bud = boud = bo + ud = stab, prick + extremity = penis. Also horn is an euphemism for erect penis. In English we say someone is "horny" when they are aroused...Horned animals are symbol of virility. You can read more about the common Slavic and Celtic bo - vo words, which are the root of the words "budž" and "buzd" here.

In English the phrases "to be a knob" or "to be a dick" both mean that the person in question is showing off, is full of himself, is unpleasant, offensive or even abusive, and is showing disregard for other people's feelings. Like someone who has or thinks he has absolute power, superior worth and right over others. In Serbian when someone is important and has power over others, he is called a "budža" meaning a penis, a knob, a knobstick. This is not a derogatory term, but an expression of respect. Knobstick is here directly linked to importance and power over others. The knobstick is a symbol of power.  But when someone is important and has power over others, when someone is a "budža", he is also "neki kurac" meaning a penis, a knob. Like in the expression "on misli da je neki kurac" meaning he thinks that he is important, that he has power over others. This directly links a knobstick and knob, the power over others and reproductive power. This is completely natural and logical, because in clan based societies, where all the members of the clan are blood relatives, the oldest male member of the clan, the ancestor, the "Starac", "Djed", the actual oldest living ancestor of the clan is the one who holds the position of power over others. And not surprisingly he holds the knobstick as a symbol of this power. How old is this link between the knob (penis), knobstick and power? I believe that this is ancient. It is the simplest the most direct expression of the patriarchal power that you can get. I made you, you came from my penis, therefore I have power over you. Originally the elders probably held their penises as symbols of powers. In Serbian when someone is behaving like he has power we say "kurči se", meaning "he is showing off, he is being a dick" but literally "he is sticking his dick out" and "he is wielding his knob or his knobstick". Do you remember that I said that I believe that "boiscín", carrying and using a knobstick, and "bóisc" to show off, to boast are related words with related meanings. Do you see now how these two words are linked?

In Serbian the expression "ponaša se kao da je uhvatio boga za kurac" means "he is behaving like he has absolut power", but literally means "he behaves like he is holding God's dick". Serbs believed that they descend from god Dabog. That they were children of Dabog. Is the knobstick the symbol of the Dabog's dick? Is the person holding the knobstick symbolically holding "god's dick"? I believe so, but I will talk more about this in one of my next posts. 

So Slavs used these knobsticks both as weapons and as symbol of power that the ancestors have over their progeny. I believe that only "djed", "starac", the elder was allowed to carry the knobstick. I believe that this is the case because of these stećak standing stones from Bosnia: 

They are all adorned with the relief depicting the knobstick. I believe that this can only mean that knobsticks were a powerful religious symbols, and not just weapons because all the symbols so far found on stećak standing stones have religious meaning. So these stones could either be marking graves of the elders or could in some other way be linked to the ancestral religion in which the knobstick wielding elders played the main role.

And here is another proof that the knobstick was used as a ceremonial stick. This is the wall relief from Bayazid fortress (Armenian Դարոյնք, Դարենից (Daroynk, Darenits')). It depicts two Parthian priests, wearing Phrigian hats, of which one is carrying a knobstick. Obviously the knobstick is carried as a ceremonial stick and not a weapon.

The fortress dates to the time of the kingdom or Urartu. This is very interesting because several other things link Serbian and Ireland to this ancient kingdom. During the 4th century ad the fortress was the royal treasury of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom.

In Serbian the word "dar" means gift. This comes from the old Arian "da" meaning yes, to give, to allow, to approve. Darovnik, Darenica (pronounced Darenitsa) would in Serbian mean the place where gifts, treasure is kept, treasury... Interesting.

Now remember the Centurion's vitis stick? It is interesting that the Centurion's knobstick was linked to the rank, privilege and power...It wasn't just a weapon but a symbol. Even more interestingly the material from which the vitis stick was made was a grapevine root. Grapevine is an ancient symbol of kinship. This is because grapevine can propagate through cuttings making all the grape plants descendants of the same ancient grape root. This makes the grapevine root stick not just the symbol of power, but also the symbol of power based on ancient patriarchal clan hierarchy. The grapevine root is the symbol of the ancestor of "djed". Did Romans know this meaning of their vitis sticks? And is it a coincidence that the priest hierarchy in the medieval Bosnian church, the Bosnian equivalent of the Makedonian Bogumils, consisted of "djed" which means elder and "strojnik" which can mean any of these things: the commander, the controller, the organizer, the leader of the line of soldiers, the leader of the clan soldiers in the tribe army, the leader of the faithful? Is this a coincidence? 

I also believe that knobsticks were the original scepters, the symbols of powerA sceptre or scepter is a symbolic ornamental staff or wand held in the hand by a ruling monarch as an item of royal or imperial insignia. Sometimes, it could be used for showing a sense of divinity. What can be more of a simbol of power and divinity in a society which is based on patriarchal kinship and ancestor worship, than the knobstick?

So that is my story about the knobsticks. I hope you enjoyed it. I also hope you have some additional information about the subject that you can send me to improve my article. I believe that this is an incredibly important subject which deserves a serious study.

Saturday 9 May 2015

The horseman

This is a medieval standing stone "Stećak" from Boljuni, Near Stolac, Bosnia. The stone has an engraving of a "man" sitting on a white horse. He is sitting between two sets of two clovers or shamrocks. What does this image represent?

His head is a disc with 12 rays. I believe that this disc represents a solar year with each ray representing one of the 12 months of the solar year. The clovers or shamrocks are often found on the top border of the stećak stone monuments. I wander if in this case, because of their arrangement, they have a special meaning. I believe that in this case, each clover or shamrock represents one season of three months. This means that this picture represents  the day in the middle of the solar year:

6 months (2 clovers, shamrocks X 3 leaves) after the previous winter solstice morning (the birth of the new sun god, the beginning of the new solar year) 


6 months (2 clovers, shamrocks X 3 leaves) before the next winter solstice eve (the death of the old sun god, the end of the old solar year). 

This means that this engraving represents the summer solstice day. In Serbian tradition the Summer solstice the day is called Vidovdan, the day of Sveti Vid, Svetovid.

Well at least it was once. And not just among Serbs. In "Ta Slovenski Kolendar" published in 1557 by Slovenian Protestant cleric Primož Trubar, we can read that "Sveti Vid has the longest day and shortest night"...Sveti Vid here is Summer Solstice, the day of Svetovid (Sventevith), Slavic Sun God...  

Svetovid is the Slavic sun god whose name comes from Svet + Vid = Light + Sight. Interestingly the word "svet" also means world, which does't exist until it is lit up by the light ("svet") of the sun. 

Also the word "cvet", pronounced "tsvet" means flower but also color. 

Sun's light (svet) is white (bel). But that white light contains inside of itself all the other colors (cvet). A color (cvet) is just a part of the frequency specter contained within the light (svet) of the sun. Material things which make up the world (svet) absorb most of the sun's light (svet). The frequencies which are not absorbed are reflected back to our eyes and we see (vid) them as color (cvet). 

Color ("cvet") also does not exist until the world ("svet") is lit up by the light ("svet") of the Sun. 

Interestingly in Sanskrit, the word "श्वेत" zveta means white, and white is the color that contains all other colors (cvet)...

Have you ever been outside in the late evening watching the sun go down? The west is bursting with color and then the sun disappears. What happens when the sun goes behind the horizon? The color disappears too. The world becomes gray and then black. 

And when does the color return to the world? In the morning, when the sun reappears. I don't think that it took our ancestors too long to link the sun light (svet) with color cvet (pronounced tsvet and probably coming from to + svet = that + light, world) and to derive the word for color from the word for light? 

We can't see ("vid") the world ("svet") and colors ("cvet") until the light ("svet") of the Sun falls on them. This is why the Slavic Sun god is called Svetovid. The  holy animal of Svetovid was a white horse. A white horse was kept in Svetovid temples and was used for divination. 

So does the engraving on this standing stone represent Vidovdan, the day of Svetovid, Summer solstice, the middle of the solar year???

Svetovid is also known as Beli Vid, Belbog.

Beli, Bel, Belenos, was the Celtic sun god. 

Is the horseman from the standing stone the same horseman which was depicted on the reverse of so many Celtic coins, like this one?

In Sanskrit the word "राग" (rAga) means "sun, color, beauty, prince..."

In Serbian the word for a very old, almost dead horse is raga. 

Is this why the sun rides on a horse in Serbian and Celtic mythology? 

Maybe the word "raga" once meant solar horse. And maybe it acquired its negative meaning through the influence of Christianity? Who knows, but it is definitely and interesting "coincidence"...

PS: When I originally wrote this article, I didn't know about animal calendar markers...Basically using animals, whose mating or birthing season always happens at the same time during the solar year, as symbol for that part of the solar year...Now I know...

What does this have to do with solar horses? Well, wild horse mating season starts in April and ends in September, peaking on summer solstice, because mare fertility is directly driven by the day length...

I wrote about this in my posts "Trojan horse" and "Unicorn"...

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Beltany Stone Circle

Happy Beltane the 6th of May!

I know what you will say.

"You are 5 days late, mate. Beltane is celebrated on the 1st of May, and today is the 6th of May."

And you are right. Beltane is today celebrated and was in the historical times celebrated on the 1st of May and sometimes even on the 30th of April. But I believe that this is a relatively recent development. I believe that Beltane was originally celebrated on the 6th of May.

If we read what Wikipedia has to say about Beltane we read that: "Beltane or Beltain is the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice." And the day which is half way between the spring equinox and the summer solstice is the 6th of May. Do I have any proof that Beltane was originally celebrated on the 6th of May? Actually I believe I do.

In both Serbian and Celtic calendar the year was divided into two parts, the dark, black part (winter and spring) and white part (summer and autumn). Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day) and Samhain (Mitrovdan, St Martin's day) marked the borders between these two parts of the year. Beltane is the day of Bel, Beli, Belenos, Belbog, the white god, the bringer of light and warmth. Beltane is the beginning of the white, bright, hot part of the year. Samhain is the day of Bran, Vran, Chernunos, Černbog, Crnbog, the Black god, the bringer of darkness and cold. Samhain is the beginning of the black, dark, cold part of the year.

In Slavic languages "bel", "beli", "beo" means white, "čern", "črn", "crn", "v(b)ran" means black,  "bog" means god.

Belbog = bel + bog = white + god, the god of the white part of the year.
Belenos = belen + os = white, light, the god of the white part of the year.
Beli = white, light

Slavic sun god Svetovid = Svet + vid = Light + sight was also called Beli Vid = White + sight. His name literally means bringer of light and sight. In Slavic languages the word "svet" can mean both the world, the visible world and light which makes the world visible...

In the comments in the translation of the annals of the four masters by Owen Connellan we reed that in Ireland the sun was worshiped under the names of Bel, Beal, and Baal. .According to 17th century historian Geoffrey Keating, there was a great gathering at the hill of Uisneach each Beltane in medieval Ireland, where a sacrifice was made to a god named Beil.

Černbog = čern + bog = black + god, the god of the black part of the year.
Chernunos = černun + os = black, dark, the god of the black part of the year.
Bran = black, darkness

Belbog - Črnbog, Bel - Bran, Vran, Belenos - Chernunos are two faces of Janus, two halves of the solar year, the white and dark part of the year from the Celtic and Serbian calendar.

Beltane is the first day of the white part of the year, the part of the year which belongs to Belbog, Belenos, Beli, Summer Sun. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man....The name for Beltane in Irish it is Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic Boaltinn or Boaldyn.

In Irish the word "tine" means fire. In Serbian word "tinja" is a verb meaning "to smolder, start, kindle fire". The word "bel" means white. Beltine means white fire but also smoldering kindling, starting of the sun's fire, the beginning of summer, of the white, bright, hot part of the year. This is why bonfires are lit for Beltine, to help the sun to rekindle. To start the white, bright, hot part of the year...

Keating wrote that two bonfires would be lit in every district of Ireland, and cattle would be driven between them to protect them from disease. This is the so called "need fire" ceremony which was also practiced among the Germanic and Slavic people. Medieval Dindsenchas includes a tale of a hero lighting a holy fire on Uisneach that blazed for seven years. Excavations at Uisneach in the 20th century found evidence of large fires and charred bones, showing it to have been ritually significant.Interestingly,

As I said already, in Irish literature Beltaine has been primarily associated with Hill of Uisneach, the mythological centre or naval of Ireland, where there is known to be a prehistoric ceremonial enclosure. Medieval Dindsenchas includes a tale of a hero lighting a holy fire on Uisneach that blazed for seven years (or six years in another version). The thing is that neither version of Dindsenchas actually says that the fires were lit on the hill of Uisneach.

The version found on the UCC site says:

Mide it was, the ardent son of Brath
the host-leading son of Deaith;
for he kindled a mystic fire
above the race of Nemed, seizer of hostages.
Seven years good ablaze
was the fire, it was a sure truce:
so that he shed the fierceness of the fire for a time
over the four quarters of Erin.
So that it is in return for this fire in truth
(it is not a rash saying, it is not a falsehood)
that he (Mide and his descendants) has a right by a perpetual bargain
over every chief hearth of Erin.

And they said (no small grief it was),
the druids of Erin all together,
"It is an ill smoke was brought to us eastward:
it has brought an ill mood to our mind."
Then Mide the untiring assembled
the druids of Erin into one house,
and cut their tongues (a harsh presage)
out of the heads of the strong and noble druids.
And he buried them under the earth
of Uisnech in mighty Mide,
and sat him down over their tongues,
he, the chief seer and his chief shanachie.

The version found on UCD site says:

Mide son of Brath, son of Deoth, was the first to light a fire
in Erin for the clans of Nemed, and it was six years a-blaze,
and from that fire was kindled every chief fire in Erin. Wherefore
Mide’s successor is entitled to a sack (of corn) with a
pig from every house-top in Ireland. And the wizards of Ireland
said: ‘’Tis an evil smoke (mí-dé) for us, this fire that
hath been lit in the land’. So the wizards of Ireland were collected
into one house, and, by Mide’s advice, their tongues
were cut out of their heads, and he buried them in the ground
of Uisnech, and Mide, chief wizard and chief historian of Ireland,
sat above them.

Neither of the two stories actually states that the fires were lit on the hill of Uisnech. But the excavations at Uisneach in the 20th century found evidence of large fires and charred bones, showing it to have been ritually significant and the fires were regularly lit on this hill. So there is a possibility that Uisnech is the place where Beltane could have been celebrated in the past, but the evidence is circumstantial.

But there is another Irish ceremonial site which is also associated with Beltaine. And for this place there is no doubt that it was a ritual place directly linked with the celebration of Beltane. This is  is the great stone circle at Beltany, Co. Donegal. The name Beltany is an anglicised version of the Irish Beltaine, Beltane. The stone circle dates from around 1400-800 BC. Some reports are even saying that the actual building date is 2000 BC. The complex comprises a stone circle of 64 stones around a low earth platform or tumulus, situated at the summit of Beltany Hill.

In "Instances of Orientation in Prehistoric Monuments of the British Isles" published in 1923 we can find this detailed information concerning the Beltany circle and particularly its astronomical alignments:

This is the plan of the great Circle crowning Beltany Hill, 1½ miles due south from the small but ancient town of Raphoe, county Donegal, in Ireland.

The somewhat rounded summit of the hill is made up (artificially) into a flat circular space, 145 ft. in diameter. The platform thus constructed is edged and defined by a circle of megaliths, of which sixty-four remain out of, possibly, an original number of eighty. The greater number are about 4 ft. high, as measured down their outer sides to the natural ground-level; while on the inner side, the tops of the stones are about level with the platform surface in the south-western part of the Circle, but stand up 1 ft. or 2 ft. clear of the platform elsewhere. There are, however, at certain points of the Circle, marked exceptions to this general height of the stones. The most noticeable of these is to the WSW., where there is a great slab, 2 ft. to 3 ft. in thickness, standing 9 ft. high, and about 8 ft. in width, in conjunction with a second considerable megalith, 6 ft. high.

Standing with one’s back to the greater of these two (which is by far the greatest stone in the Circle), and looking across the diameter on which it stands, to the ENE., one sees a large and prominent stone of the Circle, triangular in shape, with its sharp apex 4 ft. 6 in. above the Circle platform. Besides its conspicuous shape, this stone is individualized by having its whole inner surface (that facing the observer) covered with cup-markings. 

Continuing the line of the diameter on which it stands, there is seen beyond it against the sky, at a distance of about four hundred yards, a small but conspicuous hill-summit. This is now the site of an old windmill tower; but probably had in ancient times some sufficient indication of its purpose as a point of sight—a cairn, perhaps, or a pillar stone. The azimuth of this line, in any case, is precisely that of sunrise on Bealltaine (6th May); and it is important to note that the present name, ‘Beltany Hill’, gives the almost exact pronunciation of the Gaelic name of this ‘May Day’ celebration. This seems a very convincing proof of the connexion of the Circle with the date found by orientation.

Another orientation discoverable in this Circle is as follows. In the northwestern part of its perimeter there is another stone conspicuously greater and higher than its neighbours, though not so great as the Bealltaine-observing stone just described. It is 5 ft. 10 in. high, and about 8 ft. in width. Looking across the diameter on which it stands, the eye passes over a stone at the other {213} {Fig. 11} end (close, to which there is growing an ancient thorn-tree) to an outlying slab, or pillar stone, 6 ft. 3 in. high, which is ‘planted’ in the ground with its longer {214} sides parallel to the line of sight, at a distance of 67 ft. outside the boundary of the Circle. Beyond this pillar-stone, on the same line, there is a hill-summit seen against the sky, at some little distance. The azimuth of this line is (exactly) that of sunrise on the day of the Winter Solstice.

There is also an orientation across the centre of Beltany Circle to a conspicuous hill-summit named Croaghan, 3½ miles distant, crowned with an ancient earthwork, clearly seen against the sky. This line is that of sunrise at Samhuin (’All Hallows’), marking the November ‘half-quarter-day’; at six months’ distance in time, therefore, from that of Bealltaine, in May. It is unfortunate that the stones at both ends of the diameter of the Circle on this line have disappeared. The orientation should not, however, for that reason be rejected. It is not only inherently probable, but is exact in azimuth.

Yet another orientation is found in this interesting, and no doubt important, Circle by looking across a diameter from the westward over a great slab 7 ft. 3 in. high, flanked on either side by tall pillars, each about 6 ft. high, standing on the eastern edge—the three stones standing out conspicuously among their lesser neighbours. This line directs to the sharp summit of Argery Hill, two miles distant, and marks sunrise on the day of the Equinoxes (21st March and 21st September).

As we can see the Beltany stone circle is aligned to the sunrise of the beginning of the white part of the year and the sunset of the end of the white part of the year. I believe that this is deliberate. The daylight, the white part of the day starts with sunrise and ends with sunset. I believe that the builders of the Beltany stone circle deliberately mapped the beginning of the white part of the year to the sunrise at Beltane and the end of the white part of the year to the sunset at Samhain. 

But interestingly the builders of the Beltany stone circle didn't take 1st of May as the beginning of the white part of the year. Instead they took the 6th of May, the day which lies exactly at the mid point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, which is the real Beltane day. The author of the "Instances of Orientation in Prehistoric Monuments of the British Isles", Rear-Admiral Boyle Somerville, a man who certainly new his azimut calculation and orientaton by the sun, clearly states that the alignment with the sunrise on the 6th of May which he calls the day of Beltane. This real Beltane day is still celebrated in Serbia as Djurdjevdan, the day of St George, the day of Jarilo, Jurjevo, the day when the young, sun becomes a young man, the fertile sun, the sun burning with life giving fire and warmth, the sun beaming with life force, the day which marks the beginning of the white part of the year.

The builders of the Beltany stone circle also marked the sunrise at Winter solstice, which means that they were able to use Lunisolar calendar as I already explained in my post about Calendars. The winter solstice is the day one of the solar cycle. If we know how to determine the winter solstice day, we know how to re calibrate the lunar year to coincide with the solar year and so avoid the calendar slipping. The Builders of the Beltany stone circle also marked the sunrise of the day of the spring and autumn equinox. This is the same point, right between the points marking the points of the summer and winter solstice, the true East, the direction of the house of Sun god. This point can only be marked if you have already marked the points of both summer and winter solstice. All of this is pointing to Beltany circle as being a sophisticated solar observatory.

However, all this said, I heard recent reports that this triangular pokemarked stone is aligned with the sunrise on the 1st of May. This is a bit confusing considering that the solar orientation of stone monuments does not change in time. Also people who were able to construct such a complex solar observatory, who were able to determine and mark the exact points of the winter and summer solstice and the equinoxes were certainly able to precisely determine and mark the exact day of Beltane. But maybe the day of Beltane was at that time already moved from the 6th of May to the 1st of may. The stone circle is aligned with the Samhain day, which is according to the Wikipedia "It is celebrated from sunset on 31 October to sunset on 1 November, or about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. " The real Samhain is the 5th of November. The author of the "Instances of Orientation in Prehistoric Monuments of the British Isles" says that the Samhain point marks the "November ‘half-quarter-day’; at six months’ distance in time, therefore, from that of Bealltaine, in May." This then has to be the the 5th of November if the Beltane point is the point marking the 6th of May. But if the Samhain point is marking the 1st of November then the exact 6 month distant point is indeed the point marking the 1st of May. So I would really appreciate if anyone can confirm the following:

1. Which one of the above two reports about the Beltane point orientation is correct? Is Beltany circle aligned with the sunrise on the 1st or 6th of May?
2. Is the Beltany circle aligned with the sunset on the 31 of October or 5th of November?
3. Is the Beltany circle aligned with the sunrise on the 1st or 2nd of August, the Crom Dubh day? 

This would greatly enhance our understanding of the development of the Beltane, Samhain calendar. 

As I said the Beltany stone circle was a complex solar observatory. But as I already talked about in my post "Bogovo gumno - god's threshing floor" the solar observatories were also solar temples. This is why I believe that the Beltany circle was also not just an observatory but a temple dedicated to the Sun. The sun is also known in Serbia as Višnji bog (the high god), Vid, Bel bod (the white god). In Serbian tradition, Sun, the "Višnji Bog", the High God, is perceived as a living being, which is born every year in the winter on New Year's day, winter solstice. He then grows into a young man Jarilo on the 6th of May the day of the strongest vegetative, reproductive power of the sun. This day marks the beginning of the heating of the world, the beginning of summer. Then he becomes the powerful ruler Vid at the summer solstice, 21st of June the longest day of the year. He then becomes the terrible warrior Perun on the 2nd of August the hottest day of the year. This day marks the beginning of autumn, the beginning of the cooling of the world but also the beginning of the harvest which ends with Samhain, the day of gathering, the fair.

Summer solstice, the day of Svetovid, Vishnji bog is exactly in the middle of the summer period marked by the day of Jarilo and the day of Perun. Jarilo (heat, fire), Svetovid (light, sun) and Perun (lightning, electricity, energy) are together forming Triglav, Dabog, Hromi Daba, Perun the main god of the Serbs which is in Ireland known as Triglav, Dagda, Crom Dubh, Lugh. This is the Thundering Burning Sun Ilios, Grom Div, the Three in one, Trinity, Trimurti, Agni. He is the sun at its most powerful and terrifying, the sun that contains the cumulative power of the whole summer. As the day of Vid is right in the middle of the summer, the Crom Dubh day is right in the middle of the white part of the year of the vegetative part of the year. But it all starts with Jarilo, young sun, whose day, Beltane is today.

And so, again, Happy Beltane, the day of Bel, Beli, Belenos, Belbog, the god of the white part of the year. Happy first day of the summer. Happy Djurdjevdan. Happy Jurjevo, the day of Jarilo.