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CELTIC-L  April 2002

CELTIC-L April 2002


Re: Druids, was: Re: vercingetorix coins


John Hooker <[log in to unmask]>


CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.


Tue, 30 Apr 2002 04:59:49 -0600





text/plain (529 lines) , text/plain (7 lines)

Hi Ray,

>> From: John Hooker
>> The spiral or labyrinth, wherever we have an attendant myth, is
>> always concerned with the journey from this world to the next. It
>> is so common as to be universal, and might derive from similar
>> sensations and mental images associated with falling into
>> unconsciousness.
>Well, I hardly see any reason to assume that a spiral always necessarily is
>connceted to such ideas as you describe here.

Where we know of the myth or rite in which the spiral or labyrinth figures,
the theme is about the same (with variations such as the divine birth of
animals, or the soul's journey to the otherworld)

>In fact, the spiral is one of
>the simplest decorative patterns that exist, and almost every child once in
>its life draws one. I have drawn plenty of spirals in my life, to decorate
>things or simply when I was bored when talking to someone on the telephone,
>and I never interpreted it, or intended it, to symbolise the transition from
>this to another world, or with falling unconscious.

This is irrelevant. The question is not what people mean when they draw a
shape. It is what shapes to people use to represent certain ideas. The
context is important. Not to deny though that the unconscious produces
these images and they can "bubble up to the surface" in moments of reverie,
inattention, or trance.

> This is exactly the kind
>of "everything that is round symbolises the sun,

very common

>every wheel is a wheel of
>thunder, etc."

Unusual, the wheel mostly represents the whole or the world divided into
four (in the case of the usual four spoked "wheel" symbol it predates the
functional wheel). It can, by extension, represent the heavens -- sometimes
the four is seen as cardinal points, the four winds, or the four seasons.
Other numbers of spokes are less universal, and in these cases the wheel
often represents an actual wheel and can have meanings that relate to real
> concept of universal meaning of symbols, something that fails
>to work out when tested on myself. As such, either I have to be unhuman for
>some reason unknown to me, or the universal meaning of symbols theory

You would be unable to test these ideas on yourself. It is not possible.
You might be able to test them on a number of people, but would have to be
very careful how you conducted the experiment so that the subjects would be
unaware of any expectations.

>I also fail to see that wherever we have an attended myth that the spiral is
>associated with such an otherworld journey. There are that many myths out
>there, and that many spirals, that I fail to see any causal connection (and
>this is what your theory implies) between spirals and otherworldly journeys.

Hardly my theory! One place that it is discussed is in W. F. Jackson
Knight's "Maze Symbolism and the Trojan game" Antiquity, 1932. But one
could probably come up with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of other
references. Jung, in his first chapter of Psychology and Alchemy:
'Introduction to the religious and psychological problems of alchemy'
discusses the spiral courses of dream development comparing this to the
process of growth in plants and says that such is also spontaneously drawn
or painted. this is especially noticeable in Armorican iconography.

>> Caesar says that the council was held in early spring (I didn't
>> notice that before when there was the discussion about Lugus).
>Does he? Well he says so about some meetings, but not at all about all
>attested one, and he gives no date at all for the meeting in the Carnutes

He mentions that the usual one was held in the early spring, as I said before.

>> This might coincide with a Gaulish version of Imbolc.
>Sorry, but this is nothing but wild speculation. Not only is there no
>evidence at all that anything like Imbolc was observed as a festival in
>Gaul, even less is there any reason to assume from one Gaulish council
>having been held in early spring that there is any conncetion to any such
What does Imbolc derive from?

>> There might
>> be a connection with Brig and a sacred fire,
>What evidence do you have for this? This is nothing but wild speculation,
>based on wild and wideranging, completely unfounded conflating of
>de-contextualised source material. This is why I critizise your
>interpretative methodology. Unless one assumes that everything is the same
>in the first place, and that one can arbitrarily connect isolated evidence,
>ripped out of it`s spatio-temporal context, the whole concept crumbles into
>nothingness. It is not inter-subjectively testable, one either has to
>believe it or not.

Conflation is a well known feature of syncretism, and your statement seems
to deny the very basis of comparative mythology. I think this is a quantum
leap backward in religious studies.

>> The Pan-Gallic council does not appear to be have held at the
>> sacred spot in the Carnutes territory during the Gallic war.
>So why thenshould Caesar write in his ethnography that it is anually held in
>the Carnutes territory in the first place, without at least noting that this
>was only true before he changed that? No, Caesar, in his ethnography,
>clearly speaks of this druidic council held in the Carnutes territory to
>take place in his present time, clearly indicating that it was something
>different than the secular councils he attended or even called in. And that,
>apart from that it happened and that this was interesting to the Roman
>audience, it didi not bother Caesar at all.

Sometimes you say that Caesar just didn't mention something, other times
you find significance in what he does not say.

>> As the centre of Gaul it was the omphalos -- the seat of their
>> identity and unity.
>Wild speculation, completely without any basis in evidence to back that up.

Again, "the centre" is a universal concept, and the omphalos is attested in
Armorica. These are very well known concepts and much has been written on
them. Hardly "wild speculation" How would you interpret their stated
"centre of Gaul"? what is the significance of that?

>> It was not a place to talk of war, but the custodians of that
>> place then came forward, and, in an act of symbolism, agreed
>> to lead all of Gaul against a common foe.
>Again, nothing but wild speculation, without any basis at all in any
>evidence. Nice story, but fantasy fiction.

>> Even then, they could not do this within these precincts, but hid in
>> the woods. The function of the place was one of reconciliation.
>And all this you make out of some sentences ripped out of their context.
>This is what I criticise.
>> As a meeting of all in the early spring it also signified
>> the idea of the cycles of the seasons, a new birth.
>Even wilder speculation!

You are more than welcome to provide us with your interpretation of, say,
Osismii symbolism on the coins. Accusations of "wild speculation" is hardly
a valid argument. It is the cry of the conservative when faced with the
new. It always has been, It always will be. you expect me to write a book
for each of your questions? that is the amount of information that can be
drawn from to fully explain it all. I can, however, deal with specific
elements in this medium that we have here, so specific discussion of
specific elements can be discussed, evidence for evidence.

>> The omphalos was also the centre of the universe where this
>> world and the next met.
>Unattested in any Celtic sources.
On the contrary, not only in the omphalos discussed by Kruta, but without
the understanding and separation of design evolution and attendant mythic
symbols, I would not have been able to properly classify Coriosolite coins.
This was why Colbert de Beaulieu and others could not take the chronology
very far, and were unable to detect the clear distribution patterns. I was
recently given the Xn series to interpret (it was not my request) These are
the most difficult of all Celtic coin series. One French academic called
them "an embarrassment to French academia" because they have resisted all
attempts. I have already made some headway with these, but I save them for
times when I am not busy with simpler things -- cancer research, the
meaning of life -- stuff like that ;-)

>> The traditions were both old and widespread, their roots were
>> planted in the Neolithic, and were conflated at times between
>> earlier "indigenous", and Indo European and Semitic peoples.
>Yet even wilder speculation! Where is evidence for ANY of this? This is
>fantasy fiction, based on preconceived ideas about the past, not on actual
>evidence from it.

Read Campbell. There are many volumes of evidence.

>> So, rather than saying the annual Pan-Gallic council was religious
>> or secular, I would rather say that it was cultural, and that there
>> was no sharp division between the secular and the religious.
>Oh, I would definitly agree that there was no sharp division between the
>religious and the secular, but there was at least some division. That there
>were Gaulish councils which fulfilled different functions is pretty clear
>from Caesar`s record, and that these cannot simply all be conflated into one
>large unifying pan-Gaulish cultural council, where all important decisions
>were made, i spretty clear from all the evidence that is around. You
>interpretations are simply going to far, and not just a bit too far, but are
>way off the target.

As I said before, I was just discussing the usual annual council that
Caesar says was held in the Carnutes land. The only functions that he
relates are judicial and this includes rewards.

>> First, the initial capture of Commios was later blamed on the
>> common people. I doubt that a bunch of farmers armed with
>> pitchforks overcame a mounted armed guard, so perhaps the
>> translation does not adequately deal with this statement. There
>> seems to be at least an indication that this act was considered
>> to be something of a faux pas.
>Well, yes, the faux pas was that they had laid Caesar`s ambassador ibn
>chains as soon as he had arrived, and as soon as they had been defeated by
>the Romans in battle (IV, 25 to IV, 27), they let him go and claimed that it
>all had been nothing but a misunderstanding and an error, and that it had
>been the stupid commoners that were to be held responsible for this act, but
>were not to be blamed, as they were stupid commoners, at the peace
>negotiations. The faux pas clearly was that they had captured an ambassador,
>thinking that they could keep Caesar at bay, and when they had been defeated
>had of course to make up some explanation for their original unfriendly act
>of capturing a diplomatic ambassador. That this should have had anything to
>do with any "druidic" position of Commius is nothing but an assumption, that
>one only can arrive at if one starts out with the idea that Commius had to
>have been a druid in the first place. This is circular logic, you take
>something that, without assuming that he was a druid in the first place in
>no way indicates that he was one as an argument that all ambassadors
>necessarily were druids.

All I say is that given what has been said of the druid's ability to
negotiate differences, common sense would lead one to use such people in
important negotiations wherever possible, as they had inter-tribal
influences as is stated in the literature.
>> Second, If I were in Caesar's place, I would certainly pick a
>> trained negotiator rather than some sort of militant bully who
>> would rather fight it out.
>Again, an argument that is only valid if one buy into the preconceived
>assumption that all skilled negotiators necessarily had to be druid and that
>all "knights" necessarily were thick-skulled brutes that were not able to
>speak about anything without getting themselves into a fight. And this
>presumption is totally unjustified, as, again unless you assume that all
>political figures mentioned in DBG, that all the people like Orgetorix,
>Dumnorix and Vercingetorix and all the others mentioned, were druids rather
>than members of the equitatus. This, as such, again is circular logic: your
>argument is: (assumption) only druids were skilled negotiators (argument
>based on assumption) as such, all negotiators mentioned in DBG were druids
>(conclusion=assumption) as such only druids were skilled negotiators.
>As such, your argument doesn`t hold unless one starts out with the
>assumption: druid is necessarily negotiator, knight is necessarily dumb

I was exaggerating for effect. It's a literary device.

>> There is no record of Commios being of high military or political
>> position, and Caesar made him king of his tribe.

>No, but there is also no record that Commius was a druid, thus, that it is
>not mentioned that he was of high military or political position tells as
>much or as little as that it is not mentioned that he was a druid. Again,
>all you have as an argument is that, as he is recorded as a negortiator, he
>necessarily must have been a druid, which is, as said above, strictly based
>on your preconceived assumption that negotiators necessarily were druids.
>Commius, as a matter of fact, is worthless for your argument, as it does not
>add to the weight of your theory, as it is based on the very circular logic
>as described above.

See above, regarding choices for negotiators.

>> I don't think that a king could not be of the Druid class,
>Well, it matters little what you think or not, the question is rather can
>you document any of this with evidence? Do we have any example of a druid
>becoming a king? In any kind of sources, even in Irish ones, if you wish. Is
>it a frequent pattern that druids become kings, or is it not, in any

We have the evidence of one that had the primacy in all of Gaul believing
that he could become a king. Other than that no, but the question is not
clear, hence I used the word "think" rather than any claims to certainty.
You, after all, base much on what you believe in or do not believe in. Even
extending this to entire disciplines like art history for example.

>> as the knights are specifically mentioned in a military
>> sense, and their position of power by the size of their retinue
>> is not stated to be political, but it appears to be their relative
>> position within their class.
>Quite to the contrary, it is clearly stated in DBG that the size of their
>retinue is translateable to political influence: This is clear in the
>Orgetorix episode in the beginning of DBG (I,2 - I, 4), this is clear in the
>influence exerted by Dumnorix on the Sequani in I, 9.2-3, and about
>Dumnorix`s influence amongst his own people, the Aedui, in I, 17 to I, 18,
>espeicially I, 18.3-8, as well as in the explanation of the political
>influence exerted by Vercingetorix in VII, 4. If I would look through DBG, I
>would doubtlessly find more examples of similar events. It is absolutely
>evident from these passages that the political influence and power were
>based on their retinue, as perfectly in line with the description about the
>influence and power and how they are constituted based on clientele
>relationships, clientele relationships that involved complementary
>responisbilities for lord and client, as mentioned in Caesar`s ethnography
>in VI. Even more, this is also fully in line with early Germanic power
>structures and the clientele structures as described in the Irish Lawtexts,
>e.g. in Crith Gablach and Uraicecht Becc. In fact, this is as evident as it
>can be.

This is assuming that all these are specifically of that class. In the
first reference you give it is clear that they feel they will have military
power once they made themselves kings. Ogertorix is foremost in rank and
wealth, but this does not say that he was either a knight or had a
pre-existing military force. That is just an assumption. All we know is
that he had wealth and influence.

>> I don't see any problem with a Druid becoming a king,
>Well, I do not necessarily see a problem with this, only we have not the
>slightest evidence for this, while we definitly DO have evidence for someone
>who was basing his power on a retinue of clients, Vercingetorix, becoming a
>king. The same applies for Orgetorix and Dumnorix, of both we are told that
>they aspired to kingship (for Orgentorix in I, 2.1: "...Orgetorix ... regni
>cupiditate..." "Orgetorix...who desired the kingship...", and equally on
>Dumnorix in I, 18.9 "... summam in spem per Helvetios regni obtinendi ..."
>"... his highest hopes to acquire the kingship through the Helvetians ...")
>amd based that aspirations on the influence generated by their wealth and
>accordingly the number of followers they could afford.

As I said above, Orgetorix had rank prior to the hire of a force.

>> and if Celtillus was of that class, it was at least a valid concept
>> in his own mind.
>But again, we have no reason to assume that Celtillus was a druid, quite on
>the contrary, given the likely inheritance laws in pre-Caesarian Gaul, it is
>likely that Celtillus, very much like his son, had based his aspirations on
>his retinue and had, very much like Orgetorix, failed to muster enough
>support (but left his clients and thus his power-base to his son
>Vercingetorix, who finally succeeded in what his father had failed to
>achieve). Thus, any assumption that Celtillus might have been a druid is yet
>again based on your preconceived idea, rather than being supported by any
>evidence, and as such, it is invalid evidence to back up your theory! The
>fact that Celtillus was politically important is no evidence for that he was
>a druid, and thus fails to support your theory.

Holding the primacy in Gaul must have meant something, and if it was
because he held the greatest military status in Gaul, then why did he feel
the need to reduce this to being a king of only one tribe. It makes no
sense in that model.

>> I can easily picture various members of the two elite classes
>> becoming kings. Soldiers and lawyers become the heads of State
>> to this day.
>Well, you might easily be able to picture it, but you are unable to support
>it by any independent evidence, i.e. any evidence that need not necessarily
>be looked upon with the assumption that all Gaulish politicians were druids
>in mind in the first place.

I'm not making assumptions. I am merely investigating the possibility that
more importance is placed on the class of knights that is warranted. In
this model Orgetorix would have hired a number of knights, each with their
own retinue. Instead of looking at who is specifically labelled as a druid,
we could look at who is specifically labelled as a knight. this does not
say that a powerful knight could not also make himself a king. I am taking
as a possibility that the druid class was rather more political than is
generally accepted, and that councillors and magistrates could be included
in that class.

>> The very roots of kingship resides in religion. The Egyptian kings were
>> also gods: there are no end of Priest-Kings and traditions of ritual

>> sacrifices of kings (there's the image of the Fool being king for a day
>> thus being killed at the end of his "term"). Even the Romans deified
>> some of their dead emperors, and some of these emperors, like Commodus
>> and Caligula, fancied themselves somewhat closer to deities during
>> their lives.
>True to a certain extent. But nonetheless, in Indo-european societies, the
>kingship, being the political leadership, usually rests with the warrior
>class, not the religious class, and egligable candidates usually come from
>the secular nobility, not those trained as religious practicioners. There
>simply is no reason to assume otherwise for Gaul, and there actually is
>reason to assume that the Gaulish pattern of succession to kingship followed
>the Indoeuropean general model quite closely. For this, it also doesn`t
>matter that some Roman emperors were deified after their death - or that, in
>fact, something quite similar might have happened to "Celtic" kings, for
>which we yet again have some evidence.

Again, this assumes that the druids were only a religious order. also, I'm
not too sure about a wide ranging Indo-European secular "warrior class".

>I do not want to propose here that the secular and the religious was clearly
>separated in Gaul, or in any Iron Age societies for what it`s worth, but
>that we nonetheless can relatively clearly distinguish between a secular and
>a religious nobility, with the secular nobility concentrating on political
>and military leadership, and the religious nobility taking on a mostly
>advisory political rule as mediators between the human/secular world and the
>spiritual/religious will of the divine.

that is not clearly spelled out in the purposes of the annual Pan-Gallic
council. Only secular functions are specifically mentioned.

>> I don't think either class had absolute power,
>Nor do I. But while I see the religious class in a mostly advisory position,
>with limited and spiritually motivated powers to control the secular
>nobility, you see a spiritu-politico-diplomatic class with a dependent
>military class. In other words, you seem to envision a mostly clear
>hierarchy from the religio-political over the military down to the commoners
>class, where I envision interdependent, hierachically as well as
>heterachically structured system where everyone dependend on everyone, and
>where a politico/military class and a religious class were mostly equal,
>even though with somewhat differing functions, while a commoner class
>depended on these but at the same time provided them with their subsistence
>basis. My system is much less neat and clean, much less hierarchical, but
>much more complex at the same time, and is likely rto function without
>clear-cut, overarching rules and regulations, and thus is much more in line
>not only with other contemporary, but also with closely related societies
>like the early medieval Germanic and Celtic ones.

There are a number of very important changes in the early medieval period,
and even more in the later medieval. Some of these changes came about
through the influences of Roman structures, and some came about through the
growth of Christianity, but there were many influences. Gaulish society was
in a state of flux all along, but influences that passed back and forth
between Gauls and Romans helped shape what came later. The further we move
from late La Tene Gaul toward the medieval period, the more complex the
influences. I don't think that the two are "closely related". I see
dramatic changes taking place, economically, in Britain even in the first
four decades of our era -- prior to Claudius.
>> and that two class system of the elite served a similar function

>> to the two factions that permeate Gaulish society all the way down.
>Well, you see a function in a two political parties-system, why I see it as
>an expression of a power struggle between interest groups that cannot neatly
>be classified into societal groups, but permeate all levels of society based
>on individual choices rather than systemic regulations. I think the system I
>envision is not only much more in line with current anthropological theory,
>but also with current epistemology. Of course, this doesn`t tell that I`m
>right, but I think that the system I envision is much more realistic, and
>thus much more likely, than yours for a prehistoric or early historic

So you are saying that what happens societally, through individual choices
in various areas permeates all of the society and that this results
coincidentally, in the same patterns of factions everywhere in Gaul, and
yet the same iconography in all these regions must all mean something
different. This is a double standard.

>> Without this system of checks and balances the war-loving society
>> would easily have fallen apart.
>Well, so you say, but neither did any medieval society fall apart as you
>postulate, where a war-loving secular nobility mostly dominated political
>life, in Ireland and Britain as well as on the continent, nor can you give
>any reason why this necessarily must have happened - and I think this is
>because there simply is no such reason. As I said, the Irish early medieval
>system, which is very similar to the one I envision for Gaul, and for which
>we have all reason to assume that society was at least as war-loving as
>Gaulish society was, resulted in political quarrels, intrigues, and unity in
>diversity, that, at least phenomenologically, clearly resembles the
>situation in pre-Caesarian and Caesarian Gaul, and it does so without having
>anything like the overarching system of officials, the overarching
>religio-political leadership and the clear societal hierarchy that you
>envision for your system in Gaul. It worked, as a long-term (statistically)
>stable though locally unstable, self-organising system, and it did from the
>earliest recorded texts until the English conquered Ireland. I see no reason
>why to assume that a similar system could not have operated in Gaul without
>such strong regulatory institutions that you envision.

Christianity was not the least of regulating forces in medieval Europe.

>> The druids allowed Gauls to fight Gauls, but would step in if
>> the situation became too precarious.
>Precarious for whom? For the greater Gaulish state? I hardlz can see any
>reason to assume such a totally modernist view for Gaulish prehistoric
>druids, nor do I see such an assumption supported by the evidence. As I said
>before, your assumption requires a top-down, regulatory, highly organised
>state system, for which we have not the slightest evidence that something
>like that existed in Gaul.

Hardly a modern view, look at all the political intrigue surrounding Christ
in Judaea. And religion for one is always top-down. Only in the modern
world are there the beginnings of a trend otherwise.

>> On the other side, the warriors would allow the Druids to
>> adjudicate some of their conflicts, but obviously took it further
>> if they deemed it too important.
>So we are back at the wise druids vs brutish warriors - clichee. This is, in
>my opinion, totally unsubstantiated by any facts, evidence or even general
>theories of human behaviour. People are not that simple, and never were.

But we have documentation that this did happen (druids stepping between
armies and stopping them) I saw a Mohawk councillor stepping in between two
armed forces. She was unarmed and slight. The armed warriors backed off.
>> But even Christ's own followers believed he would save them from
>> Rome. When the Druids were wiped out, it was because of their
>> political might, their ability to "incite to riot". It was a
>> Roman response to a  political threat, and Tacitus was being
>> more of a politician when he described the causes of
>> that action on the part of the Romans.
>So what? Since when has a religious group no power to incite the population
>to riot? Of course, the reason that the Romans prosecuted the druids was
>that they were politically influential, which is something that I never have
>disputed. But it does not document and organised political class with
>political offices that can be equated with druids, it only tells us that the
>druids, as all religious figures, had a considerable influence on the
>population, and that, at some point, they obviously threatened the pax
>Romana by inciting people to riot. But this doesn`t tell us at all that they
>held political offices and presided over a pre-conquest Gaulish states!

This is a selective interpretation of what constitutes politics. Settling
disputes between tribes is clearly a political function.


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