Re unwearnum: a digression 3

On p.392 of The White Goddess Graves.



forgotten flying notes


Seabirds are sometimes thought of as the souls of dead sailors. It is really pointless to try to identify the anfloga with any of these: it is, rather, some ethereal banshee. The call is both internal and external.

From Frithiof's Saga, George Stephens' translation of Esaias Tegnér, 1839, Preface, p.VII:

"In every mysterious sound that fills the air, the peasant still hears the trampling of Odin's steed, which many centuries ago took fright at the sound of a church bell." (Quoted from article by H.W.Longfellow).

Steveni, James W.B.; Unknown Sweden; Hurst & Blackett; c 1926. p.83-5:

The remarkable rock-tracings in the neighbourhood of Simrishamn are graphic representations of the life led by the ancient inhabitants of Scandinavia long before Caesar set foot in Britain ..... probably the work of the old Cimbrian or Teutonic races which invaded the Roman Empire and colonised a large portion of England and Wales. ... The crude drawings of galleys, longboats, the great dragon-headed vessels engaged in sea fights ... In some respects they remind one of the old Egyptian wall-paintings ... The curious round dots and signs of the sun which occur in these mysterious designs still require an explanation. ... The representations of lions, turtles, ostriches, and camels on these rock-tracings show that there must have been a lively intercourse with Southern Europe and Africa even at that distant age. ... Many of the dragon-ships are not only two-deckers with rams, but are in outward appearance exceedingly like the triremes used by the ancient Greeks and Etruscans (?). ... As the rock on which these carvings are chiselled is usually composed of hard quartz or granite, these ancient Cimbri, or whoever they may have been, like the ancient Egyptians, must have possessed weapons and instruments of hardened bronze. ... The late Dr.Warre, Headmaster of Eton College, drew the attention of Du Challeu, who was exceedingly interested in these important carvings, to the fact that the helmeted men and their boats exactly resembled the carvings still to be seen on the bas-relief of the temple of Medinet Hamon in Egypt, dating from the time of Rameses.

Steveni, James William Barnes, MJI: Unknown Sweden : Hurst & Blackett; c 1925. p.83:

Judging from the similarity of the figures on this ancient bas-relief and the rock-carvings in Bohuslän in Sweden, we should say that the inhabitants of Scandinavia, long before the Christian era, came into contact with the Egyptians and the continent of Africa. ... The frequent representations of the sun-wheel and other symbols shows that these people were sun-worshippers; this religion, the writer believes, had been introduced into the North either by the Phoenicians or the people of Atlantis, whose sacred sign, the swastika, is so frequently found on objects connected with sun-worship or the worship of Baal.

Du Challeu: The Viking Age.

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: 1894; under Birds p.137:

Mother Carey's Chickens, or Storm Petrels are protected by sailors, from a superstition that they are the living forms of the souls of deceased sailors.

Birds, descended from the dinosaurs, have meant mystery to mankind from prehistory to Hitchcock.

Pollard, J: Birds in Greek Life and Myth; Thames & Hudson 1977, 10.

p.133: Owls were nailed up on buildings with wings outspread as a prophylactic against hailstones, a curious custom which survived in Germany into the last century as a magical protection against lightning.

p.149: Birds assumed a remarkable importance in the Bronze Age art both of Minoan Crete and the Mycenaean mainland during the second millenium BC.

p.189: Weicker pointed out that the Egyptians were in the habit of representing the ghosts of the dead as human-headed birds and believed that the Greeks did the same. Many Sirens were modelled on raptorial birds which indicated, he believed, that, like the vampires of eastern European folklore, they preyed upon the dead. Certainly Homer described the Sirens' song as fatal to all that heard it, but never suggested that the Sirens themselves were malevolent or hostile. Dionysius again accounted for the friendliness of gulls on the grounds that they had once been human, while Devon fishermen confidently expect to be reincarnated as sea-birds. Also the eagle on Plato's tomb described itself as an image of the philosopher's soul. But this is a far cry from a belief that all souls assumed bird form.

Weicker G.; Der Seelenvogel in der antiken Literatur und Kunst ; Leipzig 1902.

Spence, Lewis: The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain; Rider 1945 (Constable 1995):

p.81. "Seagulls are frequently regarded as the souls of the dead on the Scottish coasts." [E.Hull; Folklore of the British Isles; pp 209-10]. ...... "In some parts of Scotland, particularly in Argyllshire, the contiguous islands and Skye, the banshee is known as the cointach, or "keener", from her habit of indulging in outbursts of dismal wailing."

p.83. "Welsh tradition preserves the belief in more than one spirit of the banshee type. The cyhiraeth comes in a dark mist to the window of a person about to die, flapping her wings against the glass, whilst repeating his or her name. In appearance she is even more repellent than the banshee herself. Her locks are tangled and knotted, her teeth are long and black, she displays shrivelled arms. Sir John Rhys believed her to be an ancestral spirit. Like the banshee she gives forth a dreadful noise in the night before a death or burial. 'Its first cry is strong, its second lower, its third still lower and soft. If one hears the cyhiraeth and then proceeds to the death-bed he will hear the dying man's moans precisely like those he heard from the cyhiraeth.'" [see J.Rhys; Celtic Folk-Lore II p.453]

Spence, Lewis: The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain; Rider 1945 (Constable 1995): p.162. "As revealing the manner in which extraneous pagan ideas succeeded in establishing themselves in Roman Britain, I should perhaps make a passing allusion to the circumstances which prevailed in Roman York. Established as the Roman station of Eboracum in the year A.D.71, at one time in its history it was garrisoned by the Sixth Legion, under the Legate Claudius Hieronymianus, who is believed to have been an Egyptian. This captain erected a temple to the Egyptian god Serapis, a form of Osiris in his phase of the sacred bull Apis, at the site now occupied by Tanner Row. An inscription exists commemorating this fane, while another records the erection of an altar to Serapis in his Roman form of Jupiter-Serapis, at Appleby in Westmorland. A Mithraic sculpture has also been discovered at York, and, as I have said, one was found at London, where there was a temple of Isis, while an altar to the Great Syrian Mother has been unearthed at Carvoran. The Roman Emperor Severus visited York in the year 208, and is known to have been an ardent devotee of Serapis. He died at York in 211, and was cremated there. The altar to Mithra was unearthed in Micklegate Hill, and the sculpture it contained displayed the usual Mithraic allegory of the sacrifice of a bull. The remains of the Roman Sacellum, or sacred shrine devoted to the worship of the Emperor, were found to occupy a line running through the crypt of York Minster.

It is thus fully apparent that Oriental cults had already established themselves in several parts of Britain, and those the most important from a political point of view, by the period of the early third century, at a time when Christianity was scarcely known in the island. That their influence and propaganda would be readily forgotten is incredible."

Tacitus, Germania, H.Mattingly's translation, Penguin 1948, mentions the Suebi worshipping Isis. The Suebi, or Suevi, are a tribe whose name (I believe) survives in Sweden, Switzerland and Schwabia.

G.9: "Above all gods they worship Mercury, and count it no sin to win his favour on certain days by human sacrifices. They appease Hercules and Mars with the beasts normally allowed. Some of the Suebi sacrifice to Isis also. I cannot determine the origin and meaning of this foreign cult, but her emblem, made in the form of a light war-vessel, proves that her worship came in from abroad. They do not, however, deem it consistent with the divine majesty to imprison their gods within walls or represent them with anything like human features. Their holy places are the woods and groves, and they call by the name of god that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence."

From The Celts, T.G.E.Powell, Thames & Hudson 1959.

p.163. The Cimbri ... (probably) ... came from Jutland. They (were) joined ... by a people called the Teutones ..... The personal names of their leaders, such as are known, are all purely Celtic .... the Cimbri spoke a Celtic language. The name Teutones itself is a Latin form of the Celtic word meaning "people", as already met in the Irish tuathé, and in the Gaulish deity name Teutates.

p. 164. It is along the Rhine that the use of the name Germani is really important...... (suggesting) that Germani was originally a Celtic tribal name which perhaps, in former days, had achieved a suzerain position. In Caesar's time it is clear that the name was used indiscriminately for any intruders coming into Gaul from across the Rhine.....

p. 165. Unlike the Celts themselves, whose name had been known from one end of Europe to the other, neither the Cimbri and Teutones, on the one hand, nor the Suevi, and their associates under Ariovistus, on the other, are known to have possessed, or to have claimed any super-tribal, or national name, although Suevi did come to have a very wide usage. In calling these people "Germans" or "Germanic", a name given by others, not by themselves, is employed.

p.165. There must have been a shading off of cultural, linguistic and political affiliations from one major natural region to another, and the process must go back to a time when there could be defined neither "Celt" nor "Teuton" but only zones of "Old Europeans".

The Heritage of Early Britain; G.Bell & Sons; 1952. Essay by Nora K.Chadwick: The Celtic West; p125. "The most interesting of the shorter Anglo-Saxon poems, a little group of personal and elegiac anonymous poems contained in a great manuscript preserved in Exeter Cathedral, is probably of direct Celtic inspiration, especially the poems called the Wanderer and the Seafarer which tell of a life at sea. They are unique in Saxon literature, and more than a century of scholarship has failed to ascertain their poetical milieu. But they are essentially the poetry associated in Celtic countries with the Culdees or peregrini, the recluses and "pilgrims" of the Celtic Church who wandered over Europe, carrying their learning abroad, and composed the richest body of poetry of any Christian Church."

I wonder why she says this.

Büchtold-Stübli: Handbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens VII 1568 s.v. Seelenüberfahrt : the abode of the dead may be reached by sea, by means of a bridge, or by swimming

The Germanic Invasions; Lucien Musset, Barnes & Noble 1993 (Elek 1975).

"... without any external evidence, it is unwise to assume sun-worship since, as Atkinson observes, many of our churches are aligned with equal precision on the rising of the sun at the equinoxes, and there may be as little relationship between the orientation of certain prehistoric monuments and the sun as an object of veneration." The Sun-Gods of Ancient Europe, Miranda Green, Batsford 1991, p.32.

[Atkinson R.J.C.; "Stonehenge" in Au Temps de Stonehenge, 1984.]

In English folklore, the solitary call is multiplied into the sound of the "Yell Hounds", the "flocks of wild-geese high in the air migrating southward in the twilight evenings of autumn, their cry being more audible than their flocks are visible. As harbingers of evil, people would close their ears and cover their eyes until the phalanx had passed over". The yelling fliers were "conducting the souls of the damned, and of the unbaptized, to Hell".

This death-summons, and its association either with birds or ships, or both, can be traced far further back in time. Tacitus, in Germania, 98 AD, mentions that a Germanic tribe, the Suevi (just possibly a kin to the Suiones, or Swedes), worshipped Isis, whom he identified by her emblem, "a light war-vessel". Isis, whose "cult flourished all round the Mediterranean until the introduction of Christianity, was especially venerated by sailors, since her astral connections made her important to navigation". Isis was both sister and wife to Osiris, and the mother of Horus, the falcon-headed Egyptian god, who, in his boat, accompanied the dead to his father's kingdom. On a Sumerian seal of c 2300 BC the journey to the underworld is shown taking place by boat, "on the road from which there is no way back", where the dead "are clothed like birds, with wings for garments".

Back to the Beginning

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2018
All Rights Reserved