Monday, 27 December 2021

Mythical beast from Xian

Last week, I was minding my own business, researching climate in Anatolia, when this flashed before my eyes on twitter: Mythical beast, stag with eagle's head, and ten further eagle heads in the antlers. 4th-3rd century BC. Nalinggaotu, Shenmu County, Xi'an, China...


This amazing work of art immediately drew my attention. I don't believe in mythical beasts...All the ones I studied so far turned out to be complex animal calendar markers. But I never looked at anything coming from China before...

So this was something I couldn't ignore. I had to check it out. And so I packed away Turkish climate article and stared digging around to see what I can find about this Chinese mythical animal...

This was in early January...Now it's mid March...Since then I have been "sidetracked" a few times by things I kept discovering, which lead to me writing about 60 twitter threads about various things and never finishing this one...Story of my life 🙂

But finally, here we are, back at the Eastern Zhou and their "mythical beast"...And here is what I have done so far while trying to decipher the meaning of this stunning piece...

So first I looked at the climatic year in the Xian region of North Eastern China:

As it often happens, I stumbled across some very interesting things. Like the relationship between the two main Chinese "animal" symbols, dragon and tiger and the climate in the Northeastern China, the birth place of the Chinese civilisation. 

Result, my post about Tiger and Dragon from Yangshao culture:

Once I knew what the local climate looked like, I went to look at the local traditional agriculture. So far, all the "mythical animals" were in some way linked to the local agricultural cycle, and usually grain agricultural cycle...

So here I discovered something else that surprised me. I always thought that the first cereal domesticated and grown in China was rice. It turned out I was wrong. The first cereal domesticated in China was millet. More specifically Broomcorn millet and Foxtail millet.

Broomcorn millet

Foxtail millet

They were both first domesticated in Northern China, with broomcorn preceding foxtail by up to three millennia. Early broomcorn remains have been found dating from 9000BC. Foxtail millet appears dating from 6000BC...

The reason for this is that the Broomcorn millet was a better match for the environment and economy of the first farmers. The earliest agricultural communities depended chiefly on gathering and hunting and used very primitive agricultural technology...

With very limited ability to modify soils through tilling, broomcorn millet was much more suitable for cultivation because of its lower soil fertility requirement and stronger ability to cope with weeds...

But as the agriculture developed, archaeological data shows a gradual increase in foxtail millet cultivation from the late Neolithic (ca. 5000-3500 BCE)...

Sites where foxtail millet is found belonged to many different archaeological cultures including Yangshao (Yellow River area, 5000-3000 BCE), Dawenkou (Shandong, 4100-2600 BCE), Hongshan (Manchuria and Inner Mongolia 4700-2900 BCE)...

Research on the Oracle Bones from the Yin ruins (ca. 1319-1046 BCE) suggests that foxtail millet was the most widely cultivated and consumed crop during the late Shang period...

In the Book of Songs (Shi jing 詩經 ca. 1100-700 BCE), references to foxtail millet far exceed those to broomcorn millet...

The Spring and Autumn Annals of Master Lü (247-239BC), The Book of Rites, The Book of Fan Shengzhi (first century BC) and Essential Methods of the Common People, all classify foxtail millet as the most important crop...

Zheng Xuan’s annotations on the Rites of Zhou (second century BC) indicate that foxtail millet was the main stored grain of "nine cereals"...

Why am I so obsessed with foxtail millet? Because I wanted to show that at the time when out mythical animal was made, foxtail millet was the most important crop in the area of North Eastern China...

That's kind of important to know when you are dealing with animal calendar markers...As these are usually used to mark important dates in the agricultural calendar, like ploughing, irrigation (rains, floods), sowing, harvesting...

In Northern China foxtail millet is sown Apr -Jun. It is harvested from Sep-Oct. While broomcorn millet is planted Apr-Jun. It is harvested Aug-Oct...

Both need warm weather...See how this fits the climatic year in the region...

So here we finally come back to our mythical animal, which I claim is not a mythical animal at all, but instead a complex animal calendar marker linked to the local climate and millet agricultural calendar...How?

Well first, I have to say that I don't think that this is is a stag at all...I think this is a horse...To see why I think this, we need to look at the Yellow river course...You can see where the mythical animal was found...Do you see the thing circled in red?

That is Ordos, after which the Ordos culture was named...The culture occupying a region centered on the Ordos Loop (modern Inner Mongolia, China) during the Bronze and early Iron Age from the 6th to 2nd centuries BC...

The Ordos culture is known for significant finds of Scythian art and is thought to represent either the easternmost extension of Indo-European nomads, such as Scythians, or to represent a culture formed by Turkic peoples...

Under the Qin and Han dynasties, from the 6th to 2nd centuries BC, the area came under at least nominal control of contemporaneous Chinese states...Lots of cultural (and genetic) exchange I wold reckon going both directions...

And these Ordos dudes made this: The same mythical beast, this time being attacked by a wolf...See, same eagle head, same deer antlers with little eagle heads...Same ear...But clearly horses mane and tail...

Now the horse depicted here is Przewalski horse, also called the Takhi, Mongolian wild horse or Dzungarian horse. It is a rare and endangered horse native to the steppes of central Asia...Look at the mane...

This horse is genetically different from all other horses, which is seen from its mating habits. Mating occurs in April or May and a single foal is born almost a year later. Right at the time when millet is planted...

But maybe this is just a horse with plated mane...No matter...The natural breeding season of horses starts in mid-April (sowing of millet), peaks at summer solstice, and finishes in mid September (harvesting of millet)...

Which is why horses are so prominent in solar cults...

Bronze Age "Sun Chariot" pulled by a horse, Denmark 1400 BC. 

Hence horse pulling sun chariot...I talked about this in my posts "Svetovid", "Trojan horse", "Unicorn", "Re'em"...

BTW, Did you know that horse mating season, which is governed by the sun and and which peaks on summer solstice, is characterised by vicious stallion fights. Two horses facing each other as symbols of summer solstice...Or two horsemen facing eachother...Hmmmm...


Here is a depiction of the horse without any add-ons made by the same Ordos dudes...Just so you see that the mane and the ears and the body shape are the same...

So...Why put antlers on a horse? Ask Scythians...They liked putting deer antlers on their horses heads...Like these from Scythian Pazyryk burial, 5th Century BC...

And reconstruction...

Oh wait. You can't ask Scythians...They are all dead...But no worries...I am also doubtful that they knew themselves why they were doing this...

Two main deer species live in that area:

Red deer rut (mating season) takes place from the end of September to November. 

The Elk rut (mating season) takes place in September and October

During millet harvest...

They both calve from May...

During millet sowing...

So the beginning of the mating season of horses, which you can't miss as it is an orgy of fighting and fu*king, marks the sowing season for millet, while beginning of the mating season of deer (same thing, fighting...) marks the harvest season for millet...

Sowing

Harvesting

Horse-Deer "mythical animal" makes lots and lots and lots of sense if you are a millet farmer...Makes absolutely no sense at all if you are a nomadic whatever...So I wonder where and how did Scythians acquire the taste for deer antler horse headgear...

So Horse-Deer marks the "old summer" half of the year (Apr/May-Oct/Nov)...Wolf, which mates during winter, is one of the symbols of the "old winter" half of the year (Oct/Nov-Apr/May). 

Hence wolf killing horse-deer...

I talked about this in my post "Dragon fighting wolf" about this amazing Iron Age artefact found in Central Siberia where wolf, symbol of winter, cold half of the year, is fighting serpent/dragon, another symbol of summer, hot half of the year...

Now what about the eagle...As you can see, the horse-deer animal calendar marker marks the beginning and the end of the millet agricultural year. The key events in the North Eastern China and Inner Mongolia...

So the eagle head of our Mythical beast and the little eagle heads in the antlers have to fit into this general picture...

But which eagle is it? 

In many of my twitter threads and blog posts I talked about a vulture being the symbol of winter...Because they mate during the winter, at which time they perform mad areal dances...



Like in my post about the Pillar 43 from Gobeklitepe...

But I don't think this is a vulture's head...We need an eagle which is a summer symbol...

In many of my threads and blog posts I also talked about snake eagle as being the symbol of summer. Because it mates, and fights with snakes, during hot summer months...

Like in my post about this amazing mosaic depicting Eagle-Snake struggle from Istambul

But I don't think the horse-deer has snake eagle head either...

In several of my twitter threads and blog articles I also talked about white tailed eagle being the symbol for summer too...Because it mates and eats fish during summer months...


Like in my post about Istros coins...

But I don't think this is the right eagle either...

It's all to do with which eagles live in the North Eastern China and Inner Mongolia, and if their reproductive cycle matches the millet agricultural calendar...

And so I originally thought that the eagle head of the horse-deer "mythical beast" must belong to the Golden Eagle...

This mighty bird lives in the area and is used by the Mongols for hunting...So people from the area must have always been very familiar with this bird and its lifecycle...

And interestingly, the Golden Eagle mating starts in March. Chicks hatch in late April. They are nest bound for a period of 70 days. After they start flying, the chicks stay with their parents for further 90-100 days and finally leave the nest in October...Perfect...



Is this what the little eagle heads in the antlers represent? Eagle chicks? And the time between the beginning of golden eagle nesting season ( just before sowing of millet) and the end of golden eagle nesting season (just after harvesting of the millet)?

This fitted perfectly...So I was very happy with myself... 

Until the other day when I came across this picture: Thousands of steppe eagles wintering in Saudi Arabia...I mean tens of thousands...

Steppe eagle...

There are actually eagles, which in the spring (March/Apr) arrive in huge flocks and in the autumn (Sep/Oct) leave in huge flocks...And in between they nest and have their chicks in the Eurasian Steppe...And particularly in North Eastern China and Inner Mongolia...

Sooooo...Which is it? Golden Eagle or Steppe Eagle? I would personally go for Steppe eagle. Why? It makes much better animal calendar marker...Why? Because it actually appear at the beginning of the old summer and disappears at the end of it...

And look at this: Ordos culture, 3rd-1st c. BC gilt bronze belt buckle showing "animals in combat". From Washington University site... 


What we see here are two winged horses with tails made of eagle heads with big pointy ears...Facing each other...As stallions do during mating fights...Interesting, right?

Sooo...Finally back to our mythical beast...

Which marks the period between the beginning of the mating season of wild horses and the beginning of the mating season of deer, during which time steppe eagles are hatching...

Which is also the period between the sowing and harvesting season of millet, the most important crop of the old settled civilisations of the North Eastern China and Inner Mongolia...

So where did Scythians pick this symbol up? Were they once settled millet farmers somewhere in North Eastern China or Inner Mongolia?

The end...

I think we have pretty much solved the mystery of this "mythical beast"...And have reopened another one...About the origin of Scythian culture...

Actually I have one more thing to add :) Elk shed their antlers in Mar/Apr. Red deer shed their antlers Mar/Apr/May...So Just before the millet sowing season...The antlers grow with millet and the eagle chicks, and are fully grown during millet harvest season, just before the rut

This just ups the coolness level of this "mythical beast" (complex animal calendar marker) to 11 🙂 I think...

White tailed eagle from Witaszkowo

Gold plaque depicting an eagle eating a fish...From "Livius.org"...


The plaque is (apparently) part of the Witaszkowo (Vettersfelde) Treasure, a sensational Scythian hoard of gold objects found in Northern Poland, with seriously cool animal calendar markers decorations...

 



I wrote about the main objects from the hoard, which are also full of eagles and fishes, in my post "Vettersfelde Treasure"...

The official description of the above plaque is Eagle attacking a sturgeon...And sturgeons live in Black and Azov sea and the rivers that empty into these two seas...

I talked about sturgeons in my post about "Mesolithic sturgeon fishermen from Danube"...

I am not sure if the fish on the original plaque is a sturgeon...

But as for the eagle, there is not doubt. This is a white tailed eagle, which  during the summer feeds almost exclusively on fish...

This eagle is often depicted on the coins of later Greek Pontic kingdoms eating fish...and dolphins...



I talked about these amazing coins in my post "Eagle eating dolphin"...

Anyway, the fact that the Witaszkowo (Vettersfelde) Treasure is full of fish and eagles used as calendar markers, is the reasons why I originally proposed that this treasure originated somewhere in the Black-Azov sea area, most likely in one of the settled fishermen communities along the coast...

Saturday, 25 December 2021

Willow in Slavic folklore

Today I will talk about willow in Slavic spring fertility rituals, gardening and Cricket the cat 🙂 

Here we go: Saturday before Palm Sunday is in Serbia known as Vrbica (Willow day). On that day kids and young women make and wear wreaths made of willow twigs and flowers



On that day, willow twigs with young leaves and flowers, like these, known in English as Pussy Willow are brought to the church where they are blessed the next day, Palm Sunday, which is in Serbia known as Cveti (Flowers day)...

According to the church, this whole willow business is the consequence of the fact that there are no palms in Serbia, and people replaced palm branches with willow branches...Move on, nothing so see here...

There are few problems with this explanation...Vrbopuc (Willow burst) is an expression which in Serbia means "part of spring during which willow starts growing new green shoots"...

In Serbia in the past people believed that during this time of the year women become very horny and very fertile...So this was the best time to make babies...🙂

Vrbopuc is also a term used in Serbia for the period of sudden surge of sexual hormones in teenage boys and girls...

Basically willow was directly linked with human fertility...Which is why in the past in Serbia, girls used to make belts from willow twigs (wrap willow twigs around their bellies), and wear them going to the rivers to perform ritual baths...

This ritual bathing was performed on Cveti (Flowers day) but also on Djurdjevdan (St George's day), the old Yarilo day, the old day of the young sun, the old celebration of the beginning of summer...Known also as Beltane...I talked about this in my post "Aries must die"...

At the same time on St Georges day, while girls were wearing willow belts and bathing, boys and men were blowing into willow horns to "scare the witches away"...I talked about this in my post "May horns"...


It is interesting that this ritual bathing was done before sunrise and willow belt had to be taken off as soon as the sun rose...And that blowing into the willow horns was also done during the night....

I didn't pay much attention to this until I remembered that willow was directly linked with water, water divination....Dodole, young women which took part in rain bringing magic rituals performed during hot summers also wore willow twig belts...

Mother Earth = Yin = Winter, Cold, Wet, Night, Down = Female fertility

Father Sun (Sky) = Yang = Summer, Hot, Dry, Day, Up = Male fertility 

Which is why rain, water magic is female magic...

And which is why willow, the tree which grows next to water, is associated with rain, water and female fertility, female sexuality...Hence ritual whipping of teenage girls by teenage boys using willow whips, performed in the Czech Republic, Slovakia on Easter Sunday...




If men arrive at women's houses after 12 o'clock, women throw a bucket of cold water on them. In some regions the men also douse girls with water...

The man first sings a a ritual song about spring, bountifulness and fertility, and the young woman then turns around and gets few whacks on her backside with the willow whip...This was done "so girl would be healthy, beautiful and fertile throughout the following year"...

In Serbia willow was also linked with female coming of age rituals, also performed on Willow day...On that day, young unmarried girls, wearing willow twig belts and willow and flower wreaths walked around the village land and blessed the nature... I talked about this in my post "Flower girls"...



They would first go to a spring where they would sing and dance and would then wish good morning to the spring water. Spring water is in Serbia called "živa voda" (live water, water of life) and is believed to have magic properties...

Spring is seen as a place where fertile Mother Earth releases her "water of life" in the same way that a fertile woman releases her menstrual blood, female "water of life". In this way the spring water is magically linked with the menstrual blood...

So no wonder that the spring is the first stop of the Lazarice group, the group of girls whose "water of life has started to run" (who got their period).  BTW they are called Lazarice "because Willow day is by Christians also known as Lazarus day"...

After this ritual, the girls would go to meadows to pick wild flowers. They would use these flowers to make wreaths which they would wear on their heads during their procession through the village land and the village...

They would then walk through the fields, forests, meadows belonging to the village, and would sing fertility songs wishing nature to be fertile and bountiful....

Young girls, Spring Earth, Female fertility, Earth fertility, water...Willow...

Remember the Pussy Willow 🙂 branches blessed in churches in Serbia the day after Willow day? They are brought home. Some of them are made into a wreath which is placed in the corner with the icon...The rest are used to decorate the house gate, door and windows...

This is done "to protect the home from thunder" because "thunder doesn't hit willow". Willow also "protects against hail"...So willow twigs are used to "threaten the clouds during hail storms"...

Ok...Have to go and eat. Be back soon...Sorry...

Ok I am back...That the belief in the link between willow and fertility was once probably Europe wide, can be seen from this English belief: "Striking an animal or a child with a willow twig will stunt their growth!" This is a great example of Christianity at work...

In Serbia it is actually the opposite...On Willow day, children and animals are whipped with willow twigs so they grow like willow and are healthy and fertile...Which is what you would expect after everything I have presented so far...

Willow twigs, particularly the ones cut around St George's day are considered to be most potent when it comes to growing magic...They were cut into bits and mixed with animal food, particularly food given to bulls...

Remember St George's day is the old Beginning of summer celebration, and summer begins in Taurus...Taurus which marks beginning of the calving season of the wild Eurasian cattle...

I talked about this in my posts "Ram and bull", "Symbols of seasons", "Zodiac", "Animal calendar markers", "Seal with narrative scene", "Rain and flood", "Holy cow", "Calydonian boar"

Willow was in the mind of the Slavs definitely linked to growth and fertility...So imagine my surprise when I came across this information: Willow contains two very interesting chemicals: indolebutyric acid (IBA) and salicylic acid (SA)...

Indolebutyric acid (IBA) is a plant hormone that stimulates root growth. It is present in high concentrations in the growing tips of willow branches...

Salicylic acid (SA) is a plant hormone which is involved in the process of “systemic acquired resistance” (SAR) – where an attack on one part of the plant induces a resistance response to pathogens (triggers the plant’s internal defences) in other parts of the plant...

Soooo...The first hormone makes the plant grow...The second hormone makes the the plant healthy...And these hormones can be extracted from the willow shoots and used to help your plants grow and be healthy...

So...I went to the nearest willow, cut some green willow shoots, chop them into small pieces, put them in a bucket of water (under the close supervision of Cricket the cat) and soaked them for a day or two...

This is me trying to water my plants with my willow water (under the close supervision of Cricket the cat of course)







You missed this pot human...

So after successfully making willow water, and all the fun I had watering my plants with Cricket the cat, hopefully my plants will grow like mad and be healthy and fertile...

So if you ever wondered why willow was linked with fertility and health...

By the way, did I mention that Cricket the cat is not my cat? It officially belongs to our neighbours who live few houses up behind the wall, but it has recently decided that this is his garden so...