As I try to just present the tip of my particular iceberg for brevities
sake, I might be accused, from time to time, of making broad intuitive
leaps -- of which there is nothing really wrong anyway in a practical
sense. Hunches are also included as being valid by Bernstein and Wylie.
But when someone says "Hold on a minute, John, what sort of crap are you
feeding us here?" This is valid criticism and it is time for me to reveal
a bit more of the iceberg. Unfortunately, brevity flies out the window to
the accompaniment of groans from the audience!
So here's my 3,500 word "aside". Not too bad for half a days work, I think!
Parts might appear later in publication as I like to recycle.
With regard to form and decoration it is true that you can get some
objects where the form, as opposed to the decoration, defines the object
to us as La Tène. The simplest example would be a plain fibula. It's form
will tell us instantly if it is La Tène 1, 2, or 3. For some other
objects, such as a disc, it is the other way round -- without the
decoration, the disc shape might not reveal much of its origins.
Overwhelmingly, though, La Tène is used as a classification term to
identify a series of linked styles that both evolve over time and develop
many regional and personal variations.
Some of the earliest object types to be transferred from northern Italy to
the Celts on other side of the Alps, and which can be seen to have played
some role in the development of the La Tène are to do with wine: situlae,
flagons, kylixes and the like. The examplars are variously bronze and
ceramic but it is mostly the ceramic decorations that have survived in
great numbers while many bronze objects must have been recycled. In other
words, we learn rather more of the inspiration for the original La Tène
styles from the pottery, while understanding that it might have mostly
been the bronze objects (or the movement of metalsmiths) that carried
these design elements northward.
In analysing the nature and significance of this artistic development, we
have to first discover what was copied and what was not copied. The
ceramic examplars are mostly Apulian or Attic black and red-figure pots.
These did, actually, find their way north as imported objects in,
presumably, some numbers. The decoration of the examplars is typically
figural within in zones or registers that are divided and bordered by
repetitive non-figural decoration -- vine and ivy scrolls, meander
patterns and the like.
What was copied was almost exclusively in the non-figural category, and
within that category of the examplars it was the curvilinear, vegetal
motifs that were favoured. Two examples should serve to illustrate the
importance that the Celts found in this class of decoration: the first are
two Attic kylixes from a grave at Klein Aspergle (Jacobsthal, ECA no 32).
One was plain the other with a central figure in the bowl and a simple and
loose ivy scroll around. Applied gold foil decoration had been applied to
these cups that consisted Celtic developed variation of the palmette motif
(with additional elements including the "pellet-in-circle" motif). The
evolved palmette was split to produce two opposed comma shapes.
The second is the plain wooden cup which might, or might not, have had a
Greek pottery or bronze prototype as its examplar (ECA no. 18, from
Schwarzenbach). This has a similarly styled applied gold foil decoration
on the outside of the cup.
Instead of just tracking these Celtic motifs forward (as can very easily
be done), it is important to go backward in time and investigate the
origins of all of these painted motifs. The palmette is mostly seen as a
single element on the examplars, that is, it is not arranged as a
continuous register. The ivy-scroll is, overwhelmingly, used as a
continous register on the examplars. The translation into the Celtic has
retained the continuous or vegetal compostion. With the palmette
derivetives, the nature of the original motif has set up a practice where
the artist uses opposed elements and this is seen as prevailing on the
decoration of Italian and German helmet decoration, to name only one class
of object. This composition also gets transmitted to Armorican coin
designs via the Treveri area as a result of migrations of people. The
continuous scroll decoration gets carried forward mostly in the Marnian
The ivy-scroll is far commoner, in the Greek and Etruscan examplars, than
the vine-scroll, although both are used on figural compositions which
feature Dionysian imagery. We could easily suggest a wine-related reason
for the vine scroll, and say that as the vessels had much to do with the
consumption of wine then it would be easy to see why vine scrolls would be
carried along with it. The ivy scroll does not provide such an obvious
connection so we are forced into the realms of Greek iconography and
to find the explanation.
Kerényi (_Dionysos -- Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life_, 1996
edition, p.62f) says "...in Greece the wine god never bore the name or
epithet "Ampelos," "vine," but in Attica was called "Kissos," "ivy." Ivy
can, moreover, be interpreted as a term both concealing and hinting at the
vine, and it bears the poetic epithet "Oinops" or "Oinopos" in which its
connection with Dionysos is boldly manifested." Kerényi then goes on to
discuss, at length, Walter F. Otto's _Dionysos_ where is given the the
contrasted interpretations of the vine and the ivy. I will attempt to
abbreviate the conclusions herein and add my own comments, but the
original passages should certainly be examined to estimate the validity of
what follows: These two plants have established a mythological equivalent
of the opposed derivation of the palmette development in early Celtic art.
Otto looks at them as "siblings who have developed in opposite directions
and yet cannot deny their relationship". The vine is dormant in winter and
comes to life in spring, bearing fruit in autumn. The ivy "first.. puts
out the so-called shade-seeking shoots, the scandent tendrils with the
well-known lobed leaves. Later, however, a second kind of shoot apppears
which grows upright and turns toward the light. The leaves are formed
completely differently, and now the plant produces flower and berries.
Like Dionysos, it could well be called the 'twice-born'... It blooms ...
in the autumn, when the grapes of the vine are harvested. And it produces
its fruit in spring. between its blooming and its fruiting lies the time
of Dionysos' epiphany in the winter months. Thus, after its shoots have
opened out and up, it shows its reverence, as it were, to the god of the
winter festivals as a plant transformed with a new spring growth. But even
without this metamophosis it is an adornment of winter."
This illustrates, I think, the nature of its transmission to Celtic A
peoples as it resonates with the long-established twofold divisions of the
year marked in the Neolithic by the solstices and later by the start of
the "light half" of the year being reckoned at Samhain (which shows a more
agricultural than cosmic importance). It carries forward, too, in the
divisions of day and night where night precedes day in custom.
In the palmette dervitive there is, more often than not, a "pellet-in-
circle" symbol placed at the centre of the opposed lobe or lobes. A
figural element that is not derived from Greek or Etruscan examplars, but
which figures largely in early Celtic art is the mask or head that is seen
on such objects as the Pfalzfeld pillar (ECA no. 11). These head are
marked by lobed "crowns" or "ears" that evolve from the opposed or split
palmette. The Heidelberg head (ECA No. 14) introduces the trefoil as an
equivalent to the pellet-in-circle motif, an important development
reflecting many, later, three-fold divisions which dominate the triskele
composition of the vegetal-scroll such as is seen on the Amfreville helmet
and in many other places and continues even as far as the commonest
composition of the British mirror decoration.
On Armorican coins which evolve, stylistically, from Middle Rhine
decoration and can be further connected to that area by the presence of
the human-headed horse which originates around Trier, the "pellet-in
crcle" motif is most commonly opposed vertically, in a separate motif,
with a figure of a boar. The boar has a long currency as a mythological
motif and this motif shows up early in the stories of Meleager (Meleagros)
and late in the story of Diarmait as being representative as the dominant
symbol of the dark half of the year. This attribute of the boar is almost
universal. The opposed "pellet-in cicle" and boar is the iconographic
equivalent of the lobes or split palmette motif with its "pellet-and
circle" or trefoil central element. Where just a single lobe is used (as
in the comma-shaped element of the split palmette, the "pellet-in-circle"
is often retained. These can be seen as "mouth ornaments" on many
The connections between all of these elements is best expressed on the
famous coin of the Osismii that I discuss here (under Osismi):
At that time, I thought that the procession of the growth illustrated by
the small heads around the larger head on the obverse of the second
illustrated example expressed the entire year. The artist went to
considerable effort to place the boar/pellet-in-circle element at the
centre of the large head, but to connect the elements in such a way as to
have the boar as starting the sequence. this was done by connecting
everything with a series of beaded lines showing the direction that the
samll heads should be read in addition to having the boar/pellet-in-circle
motif relalte to the large central head as the trefoil relates to the head
on the Heidelberg head. I would now include the possibility that the
entire composition represents the ivy growth as described by Otto (above).
Innumerable other examples of this theme appear in Celtic art with many
regional variations introduced, in addition to the conventional expression
-- sometimes both being on the same series of coins. Coins are especially
useful because of their great number of surviving examples and the fact
that they are securely connected as series and their provenance data
easily can fix them to very specific locations. Other high status objects
tend to move around a lot, are restricted in their interpretation by the
lack of great numbers that can be firmly attributed to specific ateliers
and by their general rarity.
All of the above is a sample of the data which shows the relationships
between the Greek and Etruscan examplars and their later selection and use
by the Celts. I could include many more, but that could make this message
many times longer than it already is. This is one of the problems that I
spoke of earlier in defending lines of enquiries built upon the
Peirce/Bernstein/Wylie "cable" method where the accumulation of various
threads point to conclusions unavailable by demands for absolute proof of
cause and effect in each point. With the paucity of information about the
Celts, in general, and the information about their cultural/philosophical
affiliations specifically, such techniques are abslolutely needed to go
anywhere at all!
The next phase of this enquiry is to examine the philosophic basis of the
Dionysos cult. to do this properly would take far too much space, but it
all can be obtained very easily from Kerényi's monumental work. It is
essential, though, that I should explain the meaning of his subtitle:
"Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life" because without a clear
understanding of that point, we cannot go forward with the next phase of
the enquiry which will focus upon the Classical accounts of the Druids
The Greeks had two words for "life" which have both entered the English
language, albeit stripped of most of their nuances (which the Greek
language is notable for providing). "Bios" is a singular and finite
expression of life. It can represent a single organism, species, or the
collections of such. "Zoë" is better understood as the life force or
"element" or "essence" of life. Each person does not have _a_ "zoë" in the
way that we might use the word "soul", as this would lead to a series of
little "Zoës" all floating around as ghosts or jammed inside the heads of
people. As such, they would be positioned in time/space. "Zoë" is
indestructible because it is infinite: it has no beginning nor end, nor
does it have boundaries. I would describe it as "the quality that is
life". It exists, as a concept, in both east and west. In Tibetan Buddhism
it is decribed, by the Dalai Lama (The Buddha Nature -- Death and Etrernal
Soul in Buddhism, 1997) as the "clear light" and the individual is seen as
a composite -- like the Greeks did, comprising of "Bios" and "Zoë".
As a concept, it did not survive into mainstream Christianity where God is
seen as an individual deity and the soul is seen as multiple expression
(each person gets one!) It did, however, survive as a pantheistic view of
God in the Gnostic texts. In Jung (an associate of Kerényi), it lies at
the root of the "Unconscious" and this was described by the physicist
Wolfgang Pauli (another associate of Jung) as being that which is most
close to objective reality (C. G. Jung, _On the Nature of the Psyche_,
1969 edition, n.130). This is quite a philosphical flip-flop to those
steeped in practical science as opposed to theoretical physics, but it was
also expressed (from a different direction entirely) by the physicist
David Bohm in _Wholeness and the Implicate Order_. Bohm's criticisms of
subjective divisions instead of continuous process strongly influenced my
own classification methodology.
Dionysos was called "twice-born" because he was killed by the Titans in
his bull metamorphosis, cut up, and consumed after being boiled in a
cauldron. His heart was rescued by Zeus who made it into a potion which he
gave to Semele the moon-goddess which caused her to give birth to
Dionysos, again -- this time in his guise as the god of the vine. (He was
previously more like the "Lord of the Animals") His story also reflects
many aspects of the Osiris myth which was changed by its contacts with the
Greeks. It also is expressed in various forms as a myth element in the
Orphic myth, in Meleagros, Diarmait and so on -- all having complex
The Dionysos myth also passed into Judaea where it first was effectively
surpressed by changes in the Passover rites (where it was specified that
meat could not come from the cow as was previously allowed, and could not
be boiled and had to be completely consumed -- see the differences between
Deuteronomy XVI (7th century B.C.) and Exodus XII (6th century B.C.).
In order to understand the importance of the differences between these two
accounts let us create a scenario that would be allowed by the first and
yet prohibited by the second. Let us assume that we take a bull, cut it
into parts and place the parts in a cauldron. After boiling the flesh for
a while we will remove them and then roast them. In other words, we will
symbolically reenact the fate of Dionysos after he changed into a bull and
was killed and devoured by the Titans. We could also reenact the ceremony
of the women in the Dionysian cult and tear a beast into pieces and
consume it raw.
The later version would not allow this: it could not be a bull, it has to
be a lamb; we cannot cut it up for it has to be whole and complete; the
meat cannot come into contact with water so we cannot boil it; we must
make sure that if we do not eat all of it, then what is left must be burnt
afterward. If we did not eat it all, perhaps we might leave the heart and
Zeus could use this to affect the resurrection of Dionysos. Resurrection
was not part of Judaism at that time and did not appear in Biblical texts
until the Book of Daniel in the mid second century B.C. When one died, the
soul died as well. The time of the writing of Exodus was the same time
that the Dionysian cults were spreading throughout the Mediterranean and
it was this time that the first signs of the La Tène culture were starting
to emerge in northern Italy.
The next appearance in Judaea syncretized (at the very least) with
Christianity and we read in Robert M. Price, _Deconstructing Jesus_ :
"Thus in the Gospel of John Jesus repeats the water-to-wine miracle of
Dionysos (2: 1-11) and describes himself, like Dionysos, as the
life-giving grapevine (15: 1-10). (Of course the Synoptics bear many of
the same traces of Dionysos influence: Jesus’ blood is wine, his flesh
bread, since he is a Dionysian corn king.)"
Price is a much respected Biblical scholar and produced this work to
answer the questions that had arisen because of numbers of references that
he had made to this process. He was especially contemptuous of his critics
saying words to the effect that they should all go back to school and thus
he felt that a thorough treatment was long overdue.
The water into wine miracle is especially interesting when we compare the
original purpose of the situla as a well-bucket and its subsequent
transformation in depicting feasting and banquet scenes around the time of
the spread of the Dionysian cults into northern Italy and it subsequent
use in the Dionysian cults as being used to carry wine into the country to
reeenact the death rites of Dionysos.
Alan Knight (_Primitive Christianity in Crisis_, 2000, p.23) says "The
mystery cults were ancient religious traditions founded on the idea of
human interaction with spirit. This does not mean spirituality in the
modern sense, however. Before the great reformation [The emergence of the
Mystery Religions in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C.], spirit generally
meant the life force within nature, specifically the power of fertility.
In the Near East, for example, fertility was closely associated with
water. There was an ancient Babylonian mystery tradition in which it was
believed that moisture retreated to a great underground abyss during the
dry season. This abyss, known as the Deep, was the source of life-giving
energy that sustains the world, and it was from here that the life-giving
waters returned at the start of the wet season each year".
The eastern influences of the Dionysian cults come through Phrygia and
contain many further eastern influences that have yet to be fully worked
out. They travel into Thrace and mingle with the western influences to
which Kerényi gives the Minoans as originating. Certain Minoan design
elements such as the S-scroll can be seen passing into Greek designs and
henceforth into Celtic designs. We should also look at the Celtic "dubno"
which was first interpreted as "the Deep", became later interpreted as
"world" and has again been given as the Deep with its underworld
connections by, I believe, Xavier Delamarre.
I hope that all of this has helped to further explain my connections
between the rise of Celtic B and the mystery cults. I have not included
the Classical references to the Celts connections with the Pythagorean
beliefs in the transmigration of souls as these are fairly well known, I
would think, by everyone here. I should, though, mention one less
well-known as it bears heavily on the mixed Thracian/Celtic iconography of
the Gundestrup Cauldron:
"Among the Celts the Druids delved deeply into the Pythagorean philosophy,
inspired to this pursuit by Zamolxis, a Thracian slave of Pythagoras.
Following Pythagoras' death he went there and initiated this philosophy
among them. The Celts consider them prophets able to read the future
because they predict certain events from computations and calculations
using Pythagorean techniques. I shall not pass over in silence the methods
of this same technique since some people have even presumed to introduce
heresies from these people. The Druids also make use of magic."
Hippolytus (Pseudo Origen), Philosophumena or Omnium Haeresium Refutatio
[Refutation of All Heresies} I, 25
These early Christian critics of the Dionysian mystery religions are one
of the major historical sources of discovering the nature of the mystery
cults as they were, of course, cloaked in secrecy.
I used the term "proto-Druid" to differentiate this period from later
accounts, such as Caesar's. As I am dealing with hundreds of years before
Caesar -- we cannot entirely be sure whether the term Druid was known as
such. Nevertheless, there had to be some vehicle for these transmissions
that were steeped in discussions of philosophy and religion and it is
difficult for me to imagine that this was all carried out by the commnders
of Celtic armies or the earlier peaceful farmers etc. that moved into
northern Italy to get some sunshine and join their Golaseccan cousins.
These Druids or proto-Druids are an essential part of the whole package of
Celtic B, they cannot possibly be separated out, but we have to understand
that their other judicial and governing practices must have evolved over
time to meet the needs of history as it played out in various places. I
hope that I have demonstrated enough of the religious philosophical
component of early Celtic art to see it as a real "movement" and not just
as an isolated style that grew, randomly, out of previous styles.
> Good morning,
> Just a few thoughts,
> First, I am wondering if you aren't doing what Ray
> accuses James of doing, reading more than can be
> deduced from the record in order to create an
> artificial structure which petrifies local variation.
> (Actually I wonder how we avoid reifying groups to
> some extent in order to understand them. Saying that
> this group is defined by that trait and there is a
> certain amount of Hegemony therein which then can be
> tracked through time. But I haven't read the work by
> James that was being referred to either.) You say...
>> I don't know if you read my definition of Celtic A
>> and B in a previous
>> message, but I am connecting the emergence of the La
>> Tène styles with the
>> influence of the Greek mystery cults -- in which
>> rites, the situla figures
>> largely. It's prior origin being a well-bucket.
> (quoted from your last email)
> Ray states...
> "> As such, the form of
> decoration (La Tène style for instance) might be as
> significant as an ethnic
> marker as the outer form of the item might be
> irrelevant or vice versa.
> There simply is no way to tell, unless, of course, we
> would tend to follow
> Bourdieu on this, who notes that especially language,
> myth and art (Outline
> of a Theory of Practice p. 167) - " (quoted from Ray's
> comments on James in the first link you gave us)
> I have read Outline of Theory of Practice and I don't
> know if he isn't just being French here when he give
> special preference to language, myth, and art. But
> jokes aside, what I take from Ray's comments is that
> there simply isn't any way to tell if La Tene form was
> the important part of the transferred message, yet you
> have given us a schema based on the idea that La Tene
> form is a marker for geopolitical change and rise in
> the hegemony of the Druids. Which brings me to my
> second question...
> Second, I just wonder where the Druids came in. I can
> see the Druids as the ruling class, sort of, (what
> about the noble class?) but for the sake of argument
> let's say the Druids were. I don't see, however, what
> about La Tene artistic form connects it necessarily to
> the Druids. And what seems even more odd, is why
> bring up such a poorly understood group as the Druids
> in the first place? I don't see how Celtic A/B
> classification needs it.
>> me, the La Tène style
>> itself indicates a Druid, or proto-Druid religious
>> development, and this
>> is what I call Celtic B. (Celtic A being the use of
>> a Celtic language and
>> a religion evolved from the Neolithic with a great
>> number of regional
>> variations). After the fall of the Druid class, this
>> pre-Druidic religion
>> again reasserted itself and can at last be visually
>> seen in Romano-Celtic
>> iconography and inscriptions.
> Have a grand day, I'll try to look at the other posts
> Cheer, Kevin
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