May Day, Robin Hood, Maid Marian… and Merlin

Robin Hood and his legendary wife Maid Marian began as separate folkloric entities and were strongly associated with May Day customs.

May Day itself has pagan origins and centres around abundance and vegetation as the start of the summer. With the Beltane festival seen as a fire blessing of cattle and other livestock.

This, in turn, had similarities to the Roman festival of Floralia, a celebration of the goddess of flowers, and Maiouma, which hailed Dionysus and Aphrodite.

This highlights that these ceremonies and rituals, such as the Queen of the May and dancing around the, clearly phallic, maypole have echoes of fertility rites that are truly ancient and inextricably wedded to nature.

There are many tellings, re-tellings and embellishments of the Robin legend. But his woodland dwelling after a fall from grace of some kind mirrors the tale of Merlin, or Myrddin Wilt, and his retreat to the forest.

The ‘Vita Merlini’, or ‘Life of Merlin’, strongly thought to have been penned by Geoffrey of Monmouth in around 1150, details how this occurred.

His hermit-like existence in the wilderness was as a result of what we might now call post-traumatic stress disorder where he struggled to come to terms with a brutal battle.

This conflict has been suggested to have been the Battle if Afderydd, where the King of Alt Clut, otherwise known as Strathclyde, inflicted a crushing defeat on the forces of Gwenddolau.

Myrddin was said to have been driven mad after witnessing the slaughter which, according to the Annals of Wales, took place in the year 573 AD.

Whether this tale contributed to the Robin Hood legend is not certain, but the parallels are there.

Whatever the connection, or lack thereof, happy May Day to all.

Did Ancient Greeks beat Leif Erikson and Vikings to North America by 1,000 years?

The fanciful idea that the Ancient Greeks travelled to the Americas has resurfaced again in a number of Hellenic publications.

Based on some passages from the far later – and Roman – historian Plutarch in his ‘De Facie’, researchers believe Greek sailors made the treacherous transatlantic crossing in their Triremes under sail and oar power, some 1,000 or more years before Leif Erikson’s voyage and nearly 1,500 years before Columbus crossed the ocean.

They cited evidence to show how these unlikely – and recurrent – voyages could have happened.

So, this post will look at that evidence and the historical sources to see how likely it was.

The research, by Ioannis Liritzis, an archaeologist at the University of the Aegean and colleagues, is explained in the paper ‘Does astronomical and geographical information of Plutarch’s De Facie describe a trip beyond the North Atlantic Ocean?’.

It was originally published in the Journal of Coastal Research, in 2018.

The paper’s abstract reads: “In Plutarch’s book On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon, the interlocutors develop a dialogue about a trip to the ‘great continent’ beyond the North Atlantic Ocean. By applying modern scientific data, the present reappraisal of the astronomical and geographical elements within this dialogue has produced a novel interpretation of the date and place of the meeting and a journey to the northern Atlantic Ocean.

“A described solar eclipse is dated to AD 75, making use of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)/Espenak/Meeus list, as well as historical information. The described peculiar, recurrent trips take place every 30 years (when the planet Saturn reaches the Taurus constellation) from the Mediterranean Sea to the Cronian Open Sea, which is identified with northern Atlantic Ocean coasts.

“It has been suggested that the last mission had returned homeland in April AD 56. The information provided concerns, distances between coastal sites and islands, duration of sea paths in days, and the reported setting and size between the destination place and its gulf with regards to Azov (in Crimea) and the Caspian Sea.

“Implications of sea currents and the coastal geomorphology of those lands are given. Following strictly the Gulf Stream current, as well as other known sea currents in the northern Atlantic Ocean, and introducing estimated speed for the ship, the geographical location of destination of the Greek settlers is proposedly identified with St. Lawrence Gulf and Newfoundland island.

“Other unnamed islands mentioned in this dialogue are identified with Norway’s islands, Azores, Iceland, Greenland, and Baffin islands.

“It has been shown that the journey is made with good knowledge of sea currents, but by using bright stars and stellar configurations as astronomical nightscape markers that determine the exact orientation of the sailing toward the Iberian Peninsula and back to the eastern Mediterranean, making the current working hypothesis a plausible event.”

The researchers believe the evidence shows that temporary outposts were set up by Greeks in the New World, where they mined gold.

The source for this hypothesis – Plutarch’s ‘De Facie’ features Socratic style dialogues between a number of characters.

In it they discuss whether the moon is another Earth, whether there is life on the moon, and other philosophical questions.

A character recounts meeting a stranger who had recently returned from a long voyage to a distant “great continent.”

According to the character, new travellers would make the trip to this far off land around every 30 years, when the planet Saturn appeared in the constellation Taurus.

Some were said to have remained behind on the continent and some would have returned.

Based on this and astronomical research, Liritzis and his fellow academics claimed that this mystery great continent was North America.

In the paper, the researchers claimed that the Greeks could have used their intricate knowledge of astronomy to pinpoint the locations of Atlantic currents that could have carried them westwards to the New World.

Hector Williams, a professor of classical archaeology at the University of British Columbia, played down the possibility of Greek sailors reaching the continent – at least on purpose.

He said: “While accidental pre-Columbian crossings are not impossible for Greeks and (more likely) Romans who were caught in a storm while on the coast of western Europe, there is no evidence for regular crossings.

“Even the Vikings gave up their brief settlement in Newfoundland after a few years.”

This was in no small part due to conflict with the Native American inhabitants, whom the Norse settlers referred to as Skraelings.

But these factors appear to have left the research team undeterred.

Let us turn to the father of Greek history, Herodotus, for the more likely extent of Ancient Greek knowledge.

Herodotus (c. 484 to c. 425 BC) wrote of the mythical Hyperborea and of the British Isles, which were referred to as the Tin Islands, in reference to the abundance of the metal in the islands. Tin was of paramount importance to the Greeks in the manufacture of Bronze Age weapons and other items.

In his ‘The Histories’, written in 430 BC, he wrote of the Tin Islands and north-western Europe: ““About the far west of Europe I have no definite information, for I cannot accept the story of a river called by non-Greek peoples the Eridanus, which flows into the northern sea, where amber is supposed to come from; nor do I know anything of the existence of islands called the Tin Islands, whence we get our tin. In the first place, the name Eridanus is obviously not foreign but Greek, and was invented by some poet or other; and, secondly, in spite of my efforts to do so, I have never found anyone who could give me first-hand information of the existence of a sea beyond Europe to the north and west. Yet it cannot be disputed that tin and amber do come to us from what we might call the ends of the earth.

“It is clear that it is the northern parts of Europe which are richest in gold, but how it is procured I cannot say exactly. The story goes that the one-eyed Arimaspians steal it from the griffins who guard it; personally, however, I refuse to believe in one-eyed men who in other respects are like the rest of men. In any case it does seem to be true that the countries which lie on the circumference of the inhabited world produce the things which we believe to be most rare and beautiful.”

Further considering the lands to the north of the Hellenic world, he recalled a poem by Aristeas and wrote of the mythical Hyperborea: “Beyond the Issedones live the one-eyed Arimaspians, and beyond them the griffins which guard the gold, and beyond the griffins the Hyperboreans, whose land comes down to the sea.

“All these, except the Hyperboreans, were continually encroaching upon one another’s territory, beginning with the Arimaspians, so that the Issedones were expelled by the Arimaspians, the Scythians by the Issedones, and the Cimmerians by the Scythians, who forced them from their homes along the shores of the Black Sea.”

Later, in the same source, he added: “Of the Hyperboreans we get no information from the Scythians or anyone else in that part of the world, except, perhaps, from the Issedones.

“Not that the Issedones really tell us anything, in my opinion; for if they did, we should have it from the Scythians too, like the story of the one-eyed men.”

He also recounted a story about an alleged Hyperborean traveller called Abaris.

John Wood the elder, an eighteenth century architect based in the ancient city of Bath, in England, suggested that Abaris, who was a healer, could have been Bladud, mythical Celtic king of the Britons.

The outlandish theory is light on evidence, but raises the prospect of Britain being the fabled Hyperborea of Classical Greek legend.

Despite ‘The Histories’ being very much a product of its time and, therefore, featuring outlandish mythological entities, it would make sense for Herodotus to include reference to a great continent to the west.

But no such mention is made – even among descriptions of one-eyed warriors, griffins and other odd creatures throughout the text.

Oddly enough the association of griffins with Scythia May have a ring of truth.

This is despite the fact that griffins are fantastical and mythological beasts, albeit ones that have persisted across the western world in heraldic iconography and dating back thousands of years in Classical stories.

Legends of griffins were borne out, to some degree, by the discovery of fossilised remains of protoceratops dinosaurs in what was Scythia.

These extinct reptiles were smaller and non-horned relatives of the perhaps better-known triceratops.

Folklorist Adrienne Mayor, of Stanford University, pointed to highly preserved fossil skeletons of protoceratops dinosaurs, which were discovered by ancient nomadic Scythians.

These startling beaked skeletons would rightly have left the finders unable to explain their discovery and reaching, inevitably, for monsters to understand them.

They could easily have appeared as having a bird-like head, and hindquarters of a lion, as the classic griffin form is presented.

The presence of Hyperborea being close to Scythia could also be seen as an allusion, or folk memory, to the Proto-Indo-European homeland in the Steppe, near Scythia.

So, Herodotus writes at length about what lies to the north and the east of the Greek world, but is very scant on detail of what may be to the west.

So, do you think ancient Greeks made it to North America?

The Northman: a riot of Viking ritual and brutality

I managed to see the wonderful film ‘The Northman’ the other day.

Having been looking forward to the spectacle after witnessing the vivid and ritual-heavy trailer the other week, I can attest the film did not disappoint.

On an objective level this is a very well-made film; artistically beautiful and cleverly shot, albeit in a slightly odd aspect ratio.

This has to be the most realistic portrayal of Norse Pagan practice ever committed to the screen.

There was, for example, an extended, fire-lit Úlfhéðnar berzerker ritual with a living rendition of the Odinic spear dancer from the Torslunda plates.

The avenging protagonist, Amleth, was referred to as a “beast wearing man flesh” at one point, alluding to the wolf or dog shapeshifting of the ancient Indo-European Koryos tradition, that continued into Norse society and the Germanic Mannerbund warbands.

There was Valkyrie iconography, the presence of Hugin and Munin or Thought and Memory – Odin’s ravens – who act as spies for the one-eyed god.

The importance of oaths, especially blood oaths and blood feuds punctuated this morality tale, for a morality that no longer exists in our Abrahamic-influenced world.

There was a vision of the terrifying undead Draugr as well as the always excellent Willem Dafoe chewing up the scenery, as a mischievous Loki-like trickster, with a deep religious purpose.

Dafoe’s embalmed skull appears later, in echoes of the beheaded Aesir god Mimir, who advised Odin.

The disembodied head also called to mind that of Yorrick, from Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Hamlet’, upon which this blood and mud-drenched epic is loosely based.

Also echoing the Bard’s play there is a frisson of Oedipus complex exhibited in Amleth’s reunion with his faithless mother, in the desolate wastes of Iceland.

The violent ancient pre-Christian sport of hurling, from Ireland, is represented. This is interesting as it alludes to the genetic makeup of Icelanders, who trace their ancestry to Norse males and British and Irish females taken as slaves even to this day.

The overall plot and pay-off, which I won’t spoil here, is a callback to the brutal playfulness of the Poetic Edda.

This rich assault on the senses also includes the sexual abandon of Slavic and Norse folklore and mythology, with all of its animistic or shamanistic religious practices, which are possibly of Sami origin. This is complete with the use of mind-altering fly agaric mushrooms and the mead of poetry.

There was throat singing, which would impress the Sardaukar of the Dune film, and may have been present in Norse ritual – especially if one believes the attestations of Abraham Ben Jacob, a Muslim chronicler of Sephardi Jewish descent, from Al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain.

Ben Jacob travelled to Hedeby, which is now part of the historically-contested territory of Schleswig-Holstein, on the now German-Danish, border in the year 961.

His original account is lost but a few translations, which may or may not be accurate, paint a fascinating and slightly comic picture.

One read: “Never did I hear singing fouler than that of these people, it is a rumbling emanating from their throats, similar to that of a dog but even more bestial.”

The realism of the grimly dark mead halls and fiery boat burials and human and horse sacrifice is a bloody feast for the eyes.

There is also higher prophesy in the form of visions of Yggdrasil and hanging sacrifice on the world tree.

In short, it was a pulsating tour de force. A visual and audible nightmare of a brutish and short lifetime of duty, revenge, violence and longed-for ascent to Valhalla.

If you want to witness what Norse society and religion was (probably) like then this film is a must.

Is this the home of King Arthur’s Lady of the Lake?

Is this body of water in Cornwall the home of the mythical Lady if the Lake?

The lake is Dozmary Pool, on Bodmin Moor, one of the sources of the River Fowey.

The lake has been significant to people since prehistory, with the antiquarian and folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould saying it was abundant in fish and surrounded by numerous remains of Stone Age flint working.

Dozmary Pool is one site that is claimed to be the watery residence of the Lady of the Lake.

According to legend Arthur, King of the Britons, rowed out to the Lady of the Lake, sometimes called Nimue, and received the magical sword Excalibur at Dozmary Pool.

After Arthur was mortally wounded, at the Battle of Camlann, the blade was said to have been returned to the water by Bedivere.

The act of deposition of sacred or valuable objects – particularly arms – alluded to in the legend recalls very real religious and cultural practices.

At the time Arthur is supposed to have lived there were still practitioners of Druidic belief or at least knowledge of them.

Added to this there is also the possibility that Merlin described, perhaps colloquially or cryptically, as a ‘bard’, was a Druid.

Druids, known to the Classical World from the 4th century BC, could have continued traditions and practices from as far back as the second and third millennia BC.

In this context deposition to the Chthonic deities took place in the earth, or bodies of water.

Examples of earth deposition include pits at Woodhenge or Durrington Walls, near Stonehenge, or the stone circle and henge at Avebury.

The concept can be seen as being continued into the Bronze and Iron Ages in the form of grave goods deposited in burial mounds.

Objects deliberately placed in water include the ornate Battersea Shield and the Waterloo Bridge Helmet, as well as the far older Dagenham Idol.

The deposition of votive objects and also defixiones, or requests for divine damnation of enemies, also took place at the sacred waters of Bath.

These were offerings or appeals to the deity Sulis, later amalgamated with the Roman goddess Minerva, to form the compound deity Sulis-Minerva, via the process of ‘interpretatio Romana’.

A rich earth deposition was discovered in Folly Lane, St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 1991-92, which was part of the burial rites of a late Iron Age Catevellauni chieftain.

The complexity of the funerary chamber, burial mound and enclosure at the site pointed to complicated rituals having taken place. It was determined the site was the tomb of a client king who died in the years immediately following the Rome’s invasion of Britain, in AD 43.

Treasures discovered with the cremated body included enamelled horse equipment, a chariot, a tunic of iron mail armour and at least 15lbs of silver. 

It was said that all the grave goods were burned on the funeral pyre with the body.

David Thorold, Curator, Pre-historic to Medieval at Verulamium Museum, said of the discovery: “The whole site is exceptional; the evidence of an elaborate ritual, the imposing character of the enclosure and its position overlooking the Roman town, the wealth of the grave goods and the fact that a Romano-Celtic temple was subsequently built on the site of the funeral pyre, are all proof that the rites and ceremonies performed here were of overwhelming significance to the local population.”

Returning to Dozmary Pool, it is clear this atmospheric location within the ruggedly beautiful Bodmin Moor is the kind of place that should attract association with legends.

And, so it is, that the lake is also linked to a sinister deal with the Devil.

The tall tale goes that Jan Treageagle, a 17th century steward and cruel magistrate under the Duchy of Cornwall, was on the trail of deviant activities and made a so-called Faustian pact with Satan to gain wealth and influence.

The deal dictated that on his death Treageagle would be damned to forever attempt to empty the allegedly bottomless Dozmary Pool with a leaky limpet shell.

But in death, as in life, Treageagle was not a man to discharge his duties faithfully.

He was said to have escaped from his endless task fleeing to Roche Rock with demons giving chase, before being set another impossible task.

This time he had to weave ropes from sand. Tales abound that Treageagle’s tormented ghost still wails across Bodmin Moor.

Whatever the truth or allegory of these tales their very existence proves a spiritual and potentially historical significance for this eerie place.

Is it the home to the Lady of the Lake? Who knows, but it’s as good as any.

Exploring ancient Roman ‘vampire’ graves and an abandoned church

Welcome to Fleet Marston.

This small dwelling close to Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire has come to prominence recently after it was revealed to hold a dark secret.

Previously I made a post on an incredible Roman-era discovery at the site, which included a number of decapitated skeletons and other artefacts.

My contention is that these unfortunate bodies may have belonged to suspected vampires.

The Romans and other classical civilisations, like the Ancient Greeks, believed in entities known as strix or strigoi.

These mythological beings continued into Slavic folklore as the strzyga.

Archaeologists working alongside railway workers , building the new HS2 high-speed rail link in England, have unearthed a number of intriguing finds recently.

At or close to Fleet Marston 425 burials were unearthed at a Roman cemetery.

But it was the manner in which 40 skeletons were discovered that made me consider a dark possibility.

To the Romans Britannia was a mystical and terrifying place. A land of strange people and rituals and maybe even giants.

Therefore it is not inconceivable that, in the superstitious mind of the Roman conquerors, there were otherworldly entities abound in this far-flung peripheral part of the Empire.

And it is with that in mind that the bizarre nature of the burials administered to those 40 skeletons comes into sharp focus.

Burial was even more significant in the bronze and iron ages, with grave goods attesting the idea that the dead were going on a journey.

It is clear that the people who buried the 40 bodies were keen to ensure that this would not be a return journey.

They were found interred with their heads removed and placed between their legs.

Anyone with an understanding of folklore will know that this method of burial is one of the methods by which the vampiric strix are allegedly prevented from coming back to the land of the living.

Obviously the HS2 archaeologists, perhaps keen to avoid a sensation in their work on the controversial and hugely expensive new rail link, did not allude to the possibility that this was an effective vampire burial.

They merely mooted the likelihood that these skeletons belonged to “criminals” or “a type of outcast”.

It is interesting to note that the use of bells, which were also discovered, was another method of stopping reanimated corpses from returning. As was placing small items near the vampire to make them count them and so keep them occupied. A number of these were found at the site.

Other examples of preventative measures against strix predations include putting rocks to the mouths of the deceased, reburial outside of the village, pinning bodies down with large rocks and hammering nails or stakes into corpses.

A press release issued by HS2 said of the strange burials: “There are several instances of the head being placed between the legs or next to the feet.

“One interpretation of this burial practice is that it could be the burial of criminals or a type of outcast, although decapitation is well-known elsewhere and appears to have been a normal, albeit marginal, burial rite during the late Roman period.”

I visited the site recently to see how close I could get to the graves. Unfortunately I could view and photograph the suspected area through binoculars, but could not get any closer than the surrounding farmland and entrance to the railway works.

What I did discover nearby was an abandoned church – the Church of St Mary, which is said to date back to Anglo-Saxon times.

However it lies on a circular, raised area which lends weight to the possibility that this is a very ancient religious site, with a newer church placed on top.

Once inside the fairly inaccessible church I found a font, which is around 700 years old, placed in the small vestry. The rest of the interior was sparse and beset with cobwebs.

There were a few scattered gravestones outside the building, which lent the place a rather spooky air.

The nearby town of Aylesbury has a long history, once being an Anglo-Saxon site called Æglesburgh.

There is some dispute over the etymology of the Æglesburgh, with some claiming it derived from the Old English for church-burgh.

Was this focus on religion and consecration a folk memory of a darkness that needed to be guarded against?

Intriguingly, the Fleet Marston discovery is not the only brush Buckinghamshire has had with alleged vampires.

The curious 12th century case of the Buckinghamshire Vampire was recorded by William of Newburgh, following an oral account by Stephen, the archdeacon of the diocese of Buckinghamshire.

The vampire was said to be the restless ghost of a dead man who acted in a vampire-like manner.

The entity was not referred to as a “vampire”, because the term was not known in the English language until the 18th century.

The story goes that the unnamed man died in 1192, somewhere in the county and was properly buried on the eve of Ascension Day.

But the night after burial, the corpse left his grave and visited his wife, leaping upon her while she slept and nearly killing her with the press of his weight.

The following night he did the same thing.

On the third night the wife had made preparations and recruited friends to keep a vigil for her.

When the vampire, referred to as a ‘revenant’ arrived, he was driven away by the loud shouts and cries of the wife and the others.

He was said to have turned his ire on his brothers who lived in the same town.

They adopted the same tactic and so the revenant was forced to target other people while they were asleep as well as harassing animals at night.

Eventually the creature began to appear during daytime hours and Archdeacon Stephen was called in.

He convened a synod, and wrote a letter to St. Hugh, the bishop of Lincoln, asking what should be done.

After some theological study it was found that similar incidents had allegedly taken place in other towns.

Learning from the experiences of others, it was said that the corpse had to be dug up and burned.

But the Archdeacon did not have the stomach for this so Hugh wrote out an absolution to be placed on the corpse’s chest.

When the tomb was opened, the body was found to be in surprising state of preservation. The absolution was laid on the cadaver’s chest and the grave was closed. This apparently worked as the vampire never returned.

The part of Buckinghamshire that this incident referred to has not been determined, but one can’t help but wonder if this is some oral tale passed down through the ages and embellished through the centuries, but ultimately refers to Fleet Marston in the first century.

We will probably never know.

Marvel’s Moon Knight and its portrayal of Ancient Egyptian mythology

Marvel’s latest on-screen superhero is a bit different than its usual fodder.

Rather than Iron Man or Captain America the rather obscure figure of Moon Knight is the subject of a new show now streaming on Disney+.

And viewers of this channel, who have watched it, would undoubtedly by pleased to see several shots of the British Museum in the first episode. Although, bizarrely, the central character, played by Oscar Isaac, appears to walk straight out of the Russel Square landmark and into Trafalgar Square. Good luck trying to do that if you’re ever in the capital.

Anyway the point of this preamble is to introduce the theme of this video – that of the Ancient Egyptian mythology that has a central role in the show and how fa7r that tallies with the real pantheon.

In the show the central character’s body is inhabited, unhappily, by several entities, with one of these being referred to as the god ‘Khonshu’.

Khonshu affords him supernatural powers to fight evildoers, but the multiple personalities of the character sees him driven incrementally insane.

In the comic books Moon Knight’s abilities are seen as being greater or lesser depending upon the phases of the moon.

Khonshu is a slight misspelling of the actual deity Khonsu, the Ancient Egyptian god of the moon.

His name means ‘traveller’ in reference to the nightly movement of the Moon across the firmament.

The travels of Khonsu across the sky was, along with the god Thoth, a marker of the passage of time.

Khonsu was seen as instrumental in the creation of new life in all living creatures.

His mother was the mother goddesses Mut and his father the chief god Amun.

The name Khonsu reflects the fact that the moon, known as ‘iah’ in Egyptian, travels across the sky.

He was said to also have the names ‘Embracer’, ‘Pathfinder’ and ‘Defender’ and was charged with keeping watch over nighttime travellers.

As the god of night light the deity, who was often depicted as a mummy, was invoked to protect travellers from the predations of wild animals and to conduct healing rituals.

He was said to make the crescent moon shine to create fresh air.

In this phase the god was also associated with fertility in women and livestock.

The god’s appearance included possession of the Pharaonic crook and flail, or heka and nekhakha and sometimes portrayed with a Horus-like falcon’s head adorned with the sun disk and the crescent moon.

The god found his zenith in the New Kingdom when he was revered as the “greatest god of the great gods” and was associated with miracles.

He is seen as a sacred progenitor in the temple complex at Karnak in a creation myth that presents him as the great snake who fertilised the cosmic egg in the creation of the world.

The series also features the female demonic entity Ammit, which is represented fairly accurately in terms of appearance. 

Ammit, a funerary deity, is known as the ‘Devourer of the Dead’ and the ‘Eater of Hearts’ and has the head of a crocodile, the forequarters of a lion and the rear eand of a hippopotamus.

The goddess was not worshipped, but feared as a creature of judgement whicg would determine the purity of hearts by weighing them against an ostrich feather. 

These scales of judgement featured briefly in the first episode.

‘The Northman’ trailer and Viking accuracy

I went to the cinema earlier (I was seeing ‘Morbius’ – we can’t be intellectual all the time!) and, as is not often the case, was early enough to see the trailers.

One stood out – that of ‘The Northman’.

I was instantly struck by the gritty realism of the struggle for survival and precarious maintenance of political power in Medieval Iceland.

This is despite the fact that the film, written by Robert Eggers, is only loosely based on Norse Sagas and took some inspiration from Shakespeare’s “incestuous, murderous damned Dane” Hamlet.

What I can glean if the plot is that this is a brutal, gutsy revenge thriller.

A young boy witnesses the murder of his father, a king, at the hands of his uncle and swears an oath – no small undertaking in Norse traditions – to avenge the killing.

Presumably the revenge would restore him to his rightful place as king also.

But one scene in particular stood out and that featured the now grown up protagonist and his retinue clad in wolf skins as they prepare to storm a fortress.

This speaks to deep traditions in the Nordic and it’s ancestor Indo-European Koryos mythology.

It was a detail which may have been done simply for aesthetic purposes, but I think not because of the context.

This son has clearly existed outside of the civilisation of his birth as he built up his strength and fighting abilities beyond the walls of normal society.

His only human contact seems to have been as part of a mannerbund warband.

This is echoed in history and mythology.

The Norse had a warrior class known as Berzerkers, who were sometimes referred to as úlfheðnar or ‘wolf-skinned’.

Warriors donned animal pelts, used mind-altering drugs and danced themselves into a frenzy to imbue them with the natural ferocity of wolves or bears.

And the wolf aspect goes even further back to the Proto-Indo-European Koryos.

These were male war bands, which consisted of allegedly shape-shifting warriors, wearing animal skins to assume the nature of wolves or dogs.

They were said to have been ostracised by society as the undertook a right of passage, dwelling outside of civilisation for a period of time.

Evidence shows that they may have performed ritual dog sacrifice and eaten animals they raised from birth in a symbolic transition into adulthood.

Eating dog meat was a taboo in these societies as there were other food sources available for the Steppe herders, who ate meat, milk, yogurt, cheese, and soups made from seeds and wild vegetables.

This callback to the culture of the Yamnaya and similar cultures affords The Northman a greater depth than other Viking-based fiction around today.

And all this is evidenced from a short trailer – I’m very much looking forward to seeing the whole film.

When it is released I’m sure to cover it in some way, looking at these themes and other ritual elements in due course.

Scotland apologises over blood-drenched witchcraft purges 400 years ago

The First Minister of Scotland has apologised to thousands of alleged witches who were killed centuries ago.

Politician Nicola Sturgeon says the women suffered “injustice on a colossal scale”.

The decision, which was branded a stunt in some quarters, marked International Women’s Day, in early March, and saw her seek to make amends for Scotland’s witchcraft purge, which took place under the Scottish Witchcraft Act.

An estimated 4,000 Scots were accused of being witches between 1563 and 1736.

The First Minister said the injustice they suffered was “driven by misogyny” and needed to be recognised.

The apology came after a petition looking to grant a pardon for the 4,000 people accused of witchcraft was introduced in the Scottish parliament by campaigners from the organisation Witches of Scotland.

Witchcraft laws, passed by James VI of Scotland, who also became James I of England, led to a nationwide search for witches that became known as the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597.

It was the second of five national witch hunts in the country.

Like the others it was conducted under the supervision of Royal Commissions.

But it is one of the most poorly documented of the Great Scottish Witch hunts as it was not documented centrally and lacked coherent control leading to wild purges.

Responsibility fell to local authorities, which were left to record the accusations and outcomes of trials.

Around 200 ‘witches’ were believed to have been killed in the 1597 hysteria.

Other Scottish Witch Hunts took place in 1590-91, 1628-1631, 1649-59 and 1661-62.

Of the approximate 4,000 people accused, over half were executed and more than 85 per cent of those convicted were women or girls.

A raft of trumped up witchery-based charges were levelled at the unfortunate women.

These ranged from causing hangovers and turning into an owl, to meeting with the Devil and conjuring up storms to sink the ships of James VI.

Agnes Sampson, an elderly woman, was the first woman convicted of witchcraft in Scotland in 1591 and Janet Horne was the last in 1727.

In one case a woman called Lilias Adie confessed, under duress, to the crimes of casting malicious spells and having sex with the Devil.

She died in 1704 after being sentenced to be burned to death, but she died in prison, possibly by suicide. Her body was buried under a large stone.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “Those who met this fate were not witches, they were people, and overwhelmingly women.

“At a time when women were not even allowed to speak as witnesses in a courtroom, they were accused and killed because they were poor, different, vulnerable – or in many cases just because they were women.

“It was injustice on a colossal scale, driven at least in part by misogyny in its most literal sense: hatred of women.

“The pardon the petition calls for would require this parliament to legislate and in future this parliament may choose to do so.

“But in the meantime, the petition also calls for an apology. After all, these accusations and executions were instigated and perpetrated by the State.

“And so today, on International Women’s Day, I am choosing to acknowledge that egregious historic injustice and extend a formal posthumous apology to all those accused, convicted, vilified or executed under the Witchcraft Act 1563.”

The campaign group Witches of Scotland, which has called for all those put to death to be pardoned, welcomed the apology.

The organisation said: “This is the first formal recognition of this terrible miscarriage of justice.”

Marking the occasion, the burning of Agnes Sampson was recreated on Calton Hill, in Edinburgh.

Before her death she was subjected to sleep deprivation, a common interrogator’s tool as it eventually produced hallucinations used as ‘evidence’.

In 1563 in Scotland the Witchcraft Act was brought into law and remained in law till 1736.

During this time witchcraft was punishable by death, with many strangled and then burned at the stake.

When accused of witchcraft, suspects were locked up awaiting trial and tortured to confess.

Torture in Scotland was usually by way of sleep deprivation, but other cruel techniques included “pricking”.

This was stabbing the skin with needles and bodkins to see how the person reacted to the drawing of blood and whether they bled – and the stripping and examination of the body to see if any ‘witches mark’ could be found on them.

Often these methods were carried out in public. Torture by crushing and pulling out nails was also used.

King James the VI of Scotland (1566 – 1625) considered himself an expert in witchcraft and penned the book ‘Daemonologie’, 1597.

The grim tome was about witchcraft and other occult matters, including evil creatures like incubi and succubi, effectively sexual vampires that exploited paralysed humans to create demonic entities.

The book also touched on actual vampires and werewolves and is believed to have influenced the rituals and practices of the Weird Sisters in William Shakespeare’s ‘MacBeth’.

The king also attended the North Berwick Witch Trials where one of the complaints was that witchcraft had been used to create storms to cause a bad crossing for James’s ship across the ocean.

James saw plots everywhere, both real and imagined and his obsession fuelled a Satanic panic in Scotland. As King of England he also famously survived the Gunpowder Plot of Guy Fawkes, in 1605, after he ruthlessly cracked down on Catholics.

So, what do you think about the apology? Is it too late or is it simply a stunt?

What is the Hidden History channel?

Paul Christian set up Hidden History, in a meaningful sense, at the start of the lockdown as something to do in some very dull times. With the present and future looking a bit bleak he looked to inspiration from the past.

It is a channel dedicated to bringing history to light and to life. The channel covers anything of interest with history news and new discoveries featuring as shorter videos and longer documentary type uploads, often with a particular focus on folklore and comparative mythology.

Away from the channel Paul has written a number of books about subjects that have piqued his interest, including Jack the Ripper, the Dyatlov Pass mystery and a historical travelogue called ‘Dark Secrets of Central Europe: A Tale of Three Cities’.

Social media:

Twitter: @H1ddenH1story

Instagram: @H1ddenH1story




King Arthur’s grave found? Royal burial places from the fourth century discovered

Scientists have discovered royal burial grounds that date as far back as the time of the mythical King Arthur.

One of the most important burial sites was discovered in Tintagel, according to legend the birthplace of the so-called once and future king.

The study was carried out by Professor Ken Dark of the University of Reading and Spain’s University of Navarra, who published his findings in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.

Before the discovery, only one resting place of a post-Roman burial of a monarch had been discovered.

Now, at least 20 possible burial sites, some containing two or three graves have been discovered in Wales, Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.

Professor Dark told the BBC that there are thousands of so-called Dark Age burial sites, but that they usually look very similar. much the same.

He said he worked out that these were royal graves because of an unusual design which shows a higher status than other contemporary burial grounds.

They all have a rectangular or square ditched enclosure which could have originally had gates and fencing.

Among thousands of burials which are the same, there are just a few which are enclosed by ditches and are obviously meant to be special, he concluded.

Professor Dark was also able to compare them to similar graves in Ireland which are widely thought to be the resting places of royalty.

He said: “We know that the main political rank in those societies among those people was royalty so if we see some burials standing out in this way, it’s possible that they are the burials of kings.

“This is a period of history that we know very little about. In fact it’s possibly a period of history we know least about.

“Before this there were only two possible burial sites of Celtic British rulers from this period that we knew of, but now there may be over twenty.”