Drinking on Castle Rock

“No one alive tells/ of the feats of the leaders”

“He rose early in the morning,

when the centurions hasten in the mustering of the army

following from one advance to another

At the front of the hundred men he was first to kill.

As great as his craving for corpses

as for the drinking of mead or wine

It was with utter hatred

that the lord of Dumbarton, the laughing fighter

used to kill the enemy.


John T. Koch (ed), The Gododdin


The Gododdin is a tribal and territorial name, the kingdoms center in the 6th century  was the hillfort situated  on castle rock Edinburgh. Its remains lie beneath the more modern castle. It’s in this location that the poem would probable first have first been sung.


To Reality and Beyond: A Being Out of Time

Absorption: The Construction of a Universe Under A Pint Glass

Jimmy Reed on commitment, belonging and the collective re-living of an event:

I like the way Jimmy Reed and the documentary makers collaborated here, some nice observations. His commentary is well supported by the images. The moment the pub in which the supporters (all exclusively male) are drinking, melts and begins to form into a football terrace is particularly nice.

“Can you hear the angels singing from where you stand?”

The front row of the bar is clearly a marginal space between the pub and the terrace but this zone will be more easy to police and monitor by the bar staff. They are off camera but you can suspect that their presence is felt by those sitting in the front line. I find the cultural warrior with the pint glass on his head somewhat pleasing, as he floats through deep space and possibility and moves in and out of a number of potential worlds, that of the pub, the terrace and his awareness that he is engaging with a wider audience entirely remote from the event through the lens of the camera. He demonstrates the multiple contexts, which you need to contend with and mesh in order to perform.

He is certainly a part of being Scottish, the effect of a cultural propensity towards drinking too much industrial strength pig lager allow such unguarded technique, to make itself slightly more easy to observe, the tiny split second disruptions, gaps and movement between zones, which if successfully negotiated allow for absorption and flow and if not disassociation and fragmentation. A being of potential and chaotic possibility.

It details for me the creative potential that allows for two of my favorite subjects, storytelling and history. The ability to relive, retell and re-shape events,  this allows cultural activities to impact not just on those who have participated at that moment in time but also those who have not. It is language that allows this creative potential and possibility.

The Peace of God?

“In more advanced agricultural societies, the birth of Gautama (Buddha)  in about 560 BC. brought a creative new idea of reverence for life. While concerned only with humans, not animals in general, early Christianity was also opposed to military service, war and killing. While Christianity as a whole has faltered and adopted militarism, some groups such as the Quakers, remain committed to original pacifism. The ethnographic evidence for tribal societies  suggests that perhaps 12 per cent can be regarded as pacifistic…. the Batek of Malaysia teach children the values of sharing and non-violence. Similarly, it was mass education, assisted by the frustrations of colonial rule, which enabled Gandhi to bring non-violent tactics so successfully to India. ‘ Ahimsa expresses an ancient, Hindu, Jain and Buddhist ethical precept’ and not only means non-violence, but the refusal to do harm generally. This, if anything, is a new order of thinking for human society. It acknowledges the potential for conflict and violence and proposes a positive philosophy to counteract and disarm this potential.”


Don Brothwell, Biosocial and Bio- Archaeological Aspects of Conflict and Warfare, in J. Carman and A. Harding, Ancient Warfare, 1999


A Pagan Past in a Christian Present

Mud and Blood (Blut und Boden): Putty and Clay

The Absorption of Culture

This simply picks up from where the last post on the Cain Adamnan left off. Finish off presenting the narrative over the next few posts and then get deeply boring looking at the text from a range of perspectives and drawing out a brief picture of the environment and culture in which the text was formed.

I will make one brief point. This is a society slowly transforming and incorporating a new belief system. This caused considerable discussion and anxiety with regard to the past.

In the closing section are found these words. “My being put to the sword on the battlefield and thrown into the torments of Hell.” Hell was the place that the church educated populations to believe was the home for pagan sinners. For recent converts that could mean not just ancestors but living relatives and this is a small scale, rural, kin based society in which ancestry and kin was the social glue which held society together. It is a common device found in such narratives, the pagan dead are resurrected and are returned to the living world for a brief period to illustrate the issue and as a demonstrable warning.

In a christian present this recent and remembered past was a live and vital issue, a source of considerable discussion and debate. For the early first generation adopters learning to view and engage with the world in a new way.  The sources would seem to suggest that this was at times a difficult and unsettling processes. Christianity certainly caused tension with co-existing pre-christian social practices, the uneasy relationship between warrior and priest is one example.

6. This is the beginning of the story. Once Adamnan and his mother were wending their way by Ath Drochait in Uaithne in Ui Aido Odba in the south of Bregia. ‘Come upon my back, dear mother!’ saith he. ‘I shall not go’, saith she. ‘What is this? what ails you?’, saith he. ‘Because you are not a dutiful son’, saith she. ‘Who is more dutiful than I am? since I put a girdle upon my breast, carring you about from place to place, keeping you from dirt and wet. I know of no duty whcih a son of a man could do to his mother that I do not do for you, except the humming tune which women preform….. Because I cannot preform that tune, I will have a sweet-sounding harp made for you, to play to you, with a strap of bronze out of it’. ‘Even so’, she said. ‘Your dutifulness were good; however, that is not the duty I desire, but that you should free women for me from encounter, from camping, from fighting, from hosting, from wounding, from slaying, from the bondage of the cauldron.’

7. Then she went on her son’s back until they chanced to come upon a battlefield. Such was the thickness of the slaughter into which they came to that the soles of one woman would touch the neck of another. Through they beheld the battlefield, they saw nothing more touching and pitiful than the head of a woman in one place and the body in another, and her little babe upon the breasts of the corpse, a stream of milk upon one of its cheeks, and a stream of blood upon the other.

8. ‘That is a touching and pitiful sight’, said Ronnat, the mother of Adamnan, ‘what I see under thy feet, my good cleric!’ Why dost thou not let me down upon the ground that I may give it my breast? However, it is long since my breasts have run dry! Nothing would be found in them. Why dost thou not prove thy clerkship for us upon yon wrenched body, to see whether the Lord will resuscitate it for thee?’ (Hence is the ancient saw: ‘Beautiful is every pup under its dam’.) At the word of his mother Adamnan turned aside, adjusted the head on the neck, and made the sign of the cross with his staff across the breast of the woman. And the woman rose up.

9.’Alas! O my great Lord of the elements!’ said she. ‘What makes you say alas?’ said Adamnan, ‘My being put to the sword on the battlefield and thrown into the torments of Hell. I know no one here or yonder who would do a kindness or show mercy to me save Adamnan, the Virgin Mary urging him thereto on behalf of the host of Heaven’.

10. And the woman who was there resuscitated at the word of Adamnan was Smirgat daughter of Aed Finn king of the Bregni of Connaught, wife of the king of Luaigni of Tara. For the woman of Ui Aido Odba and of the south of Bregia and the Luaigni of Tara had met around the ford, so that not a soul of them had come away abiding in its body, but they had fallen sole to sole.

The Quicksands of Time

“You think that just because it’s already happened, the past is finished and unchangeable? Oh no, the past is finished and unchangeable? Oh no, the past is a cloaked in multi-coloured taffeta and every time we look at it we see a different hue.” (1)

Rats, caught myself ranting about the more militant wing of the skeptical community again at Evolving Thoughts and its black and white moralistic take on history (although archeology this time so some variation in my repetition at least). If I believed in such things I would try giving up being a grumpy middle aged man for Lent but you have to have some fun at my delicate stage of existence.

In this case the subject of my Ire was a joke (see link above) or one small part of it, but its part of a wider and more wide spread cultural repetition.

The new atheist perspective on the past is part of the weft and weave of it all its just not interesting it targets a very limited audience and can provide little context or relevance beyond that.

What struck me as somewhat surprising in particular is the involvement of evolutionary biologists in this static and lifeless representation of the past.  But that’s simply cultural shock

“These Difficulties arise in part from the fact that the cognitive operations necessary for solving certain problems are activated in culturally specific ways. It may not be possible in a foreign culture to recognize the nature of the problem with which one is faced, or to think about the problem in the appropriate way.” (2)

John at E.T. has a difficult balancing act to maintain, I agree with his take on religion from a historical and ethnological basis in large degree, its subtle stuff and based on wide reading and on philosophy the site is an education and can’t be missed. The more militant wing of the skeptical community like religion is not going to go away anytime soon and they have to be engaged with. My humble voice fails on all counts here, when I get frustrated I become as subtle as a rubber cosh.

Being an atheist is a small part of my identity something I have never had to think about much as I have grown up being one and live in a secular urban community. But as I live in Scotland I have little taste for the John Knox take on it all, which seems to be such a part of the more hard boiled skeptical perspective.

For me discovering the wider atheist community was a shock as many members do not fit with my own internal representation of what an atheist should be. I can live with that as I live happily in environment rich in difference filled with vibrancy and surprise at every turn, but in my more uncritical and more human moments it is hard to accept my more hard edged kindred wither they identify as skeptics, religious or whatever. I identify with no difficulty as an atheist but looking at the wider community I am a stranger in a strange land.  The manner in which it uses language and narrative do not fit.


(1) Milan Kunders, Life is Elsewhere, cited in, Bettina Arnold, The Material Culture of Social Structure: Rank and Status in Early Iron Age Europe, in, B. Arnold and D.B. Gibson, Celtic Chiefdom Celtic State: The Evolution of Complex Social Systems in Prehistoric Europe, Cambridge, 1995

(2)Bruce E. Wexler, Neurobiology, Ideology, And Social Change. Bruce Wexler uses immigration here to explore this phenomena. I think it applies also here though this cultural grouping is not an ethnic one. I don’t think history is used in the way it is by some sections of the secular community because it is particularly bad at doing history. The narrative is clearly important for group members, history is not its concern but gives the story needed authority. It maintains a framework that allows for coherence and repetition to maintained. Group members cannot stray from the accepted and agreed upon facts of the matter.

Having a background in both ethnology and history I am less inclined than historians sometimes are to dismiss forms of cultural data that don’t seem to fit or make little sense as irrelevant or nonsense. It indicates to me I have yet to find away into the culture or social group I am dealing with. I don’t yet have enough internal cultural context.

Mother of Christ: Cursing, Violence and The Ordering of Female Identity

Milites Christi and the Mothers of Invention

Here is an extract from the Internet History Source Book. The law dates to the 6th century, the extract is part of the reciters prologue, the narrative is retro and later in date than the law itself. The text is also known as the Law of the Innocents.

The text is Irish, and would have applied only to members of the Ionian monastic community. This was the early monastic community established first in early medieval Scotland by St Columba on Iona but also extended it’s presence into Ireland; so the law would have applied to small areas of both Ireland and Scotland.  The law only extended as far as the influence of the monastic organization.

The laws outward aim was to exempt females, priests and children from violence. This early monastic communities also had a lay population hence the inclusion of women and children in it’s legal codes.

“innocence with its bloody smile”

1. Five ages before the birth of Christ, to wit, from Adam to the Flood, from the Flood to Abraham, from Abraham to David, from David to the Captivity in Babylon, from the Babylonian Captivity to the birth of Christ. During that time women were in bondage and in slavery, until Adamnan, son of Ronan, son of Tinne, son of Aed, son of Colum, son of Lugaid, son of Setne, son of Fergus, son of Conall, son of Niall, came.

2. Cumalach was a name for women till Adamnan come to free them. And this was the cumalach, a woman for whom a hole was dug at the end of the door so that it came over her nakedness. The end of the great spit was placed upon her till the cooking of the portion was ended. After she had come out of that earth-pit she had to dip a candle four man’s hands in length in a plate of butter or lard; that candle to be on her palm until division of food and distribution of liquor and making of beds, in the houses of kings and cheiftains, had ended. That women had no share in bag or in basket, nor in the company of the house-master; but she dwelt in a hut outside the enclosure, lest bane from sea or land should come to her chief.

3. The work which the best women had to do, was to go to battle and battlefield, encounter and camping, fighting and hosting, wounding and slaying. On one side of her she would carry her bag of provisions, on the other her babe. Her wooden pole upon her back. Thirty feet long it was, and had on one end an iron hook, which she would thrust into the tress of some woman in the opposite battalion. Her husband behind her, carrying a fence-stake in his hand, and flogging her on to battle. For at that time it was the head of a woman, or her two breasts, which were taken as trophies.

4. Now after the coming of Adamnan no woman is deprived of her testimony, if it be bound in righteous deeds. For a mother is a venerable treasure, a mother is a goodly treasure, the mother of saints and bishops and righteous men, an increase in the Kingdom of Heaven, a propagation on earth.


Milites Christi, soldier of Christ was a name that the Ionian community used in reference to itself.