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Revealing the Green Man
The Restoration of the Oldest Religion on Planet Earth
By Mark Olly
John Hunt Publishing LtdCopyright © 2015 Mark Olly
All rights reserved.
Herne and Horns
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Voltaire (1694-1778)
It's winter around 30,000 BC and the snow and ice lie in a thick, white blanket across the land, providing a stark reminder of the former Ice Ages through which humankind has been forced to survive. Inside a dry, fire-lit cave a huddled group of skin-clad hunters gaze on as one of their number dances dressed in the hide and antlers of a large deer, casting ever -twisting grotesque shadows across walls painted with hunting scenes and signed with hand prints from many ages past.
We know this story to be true because we still have European cave paintings that show these hunters dressed in animal skins and horns at Trois-Frères, in Ariege, France, and the surviving antler head pieces from Starr Carr, South Yorkshire, England. In times when survival was undoubtedly of the highest priority, what were these people trying to achieve by indulging themselves in performing arts?
What we do know is that a great deal of time and effort was put into recording hunting scenes on cave walls after the last Ice Age had all but ended, and that dressing up in the ways shown in these paintings would be very poor camouflage for hunting, especially considering a deer's ability to smell a hunter's scent and recognise the silhouette of a standing human figure at a distance!
What we do have is probably the first representation of the Shaman of the Hunt undertaking a ceremony, probably for one of two reasons. Firstly this was possibly in thanks for a good season's hunting and to honour the deer that died to provide food or, secondly, quite the opposite, possibly a magical act to try to attract the much-needed herds that, for some reason, had failed to appear at the appointed time.
This last option would appear the favourite considering the high priority of survival.
Either option being the case we have the first physical indications of a belief that humankind could somehow influence the natural world around them through a complex form of sympathetic magic presumably used at the appropriate times of the year. We also have here the very root birth of the figure much later known as Herne the Hunter, the first and oldest lord of the forest to be historically recorded by early Europeans.
Also implicit in the belief is the connection between the human (shaman), the object (antlers), and the desired aim in the natural world (deer), conveyed by some other inherent force which must inevitably flow through all things. Then the Stone Age came to an end and the Copper Age and Bronze Age began.
The Solar Copper Cult Begins
6000 BC – Copper smelted in Anatolia and the Caucasus; the Gilgamesh Epic composed.
4500 BC – Smelting takes place in the Balkans, Mediterranean and Central Europe.
3350 BC – Earliest date for Otzi the Iceman and his copper axe (3100 BC at latest).
3000 BC – Egyptians worship the 'Aten' (Sun), Osiris and the fertility of the Nile.
2000 BC – Copper is mined on the Great Orme, Llandudno, Wales, UK.
1950 BC – Copper is mined on Alderley Edge, Cheshire, England, UK.CHAPTER 2
The Watchman of the Forest Never Sleeps
The first written account to survive of a 'force' found in the vast forests uncharted and unaffected by man is The Forest Journey in the Middle Eastern Babylonian pre-flood tale known as The Epic of Gilgamesh, which was miraculously preserved on clay tablets found in desert ruins by early archaeologists and first translated in the 19 century. The Epic is at least between 5,000 and 6,000 years old, takes us back into the mind of Bronze Age man, and points mysteriously to the traditions of beheading and the 'triple death' found in European Celtic sacrifice.
Various dates have been given to planetary floods between 10500 BC and 3500 BC and it has to be accepted that there must have been many minor regional floods at the end of the last Ice Age and at least one big one, which probably led to the Biblical flood account, the Egyptian-Greek 'sinking of Atlantis', and many more including the Babylonian's own Epic version of a super-flood found in the clay tablets – but this is not the subject of our quest here. It merely serves to draw a line fixing the date of our tale in a world as yet unravaged by the waters of melting ice or the wholescale human environmental deforestation of the recent ages. In the story, the hero Gilgamesh meets the eyes of his companion Enkidu and says:
'Because of the evil that is in the land, we will go to the forest and destroy the evil; for in the forest lives Humbaba whose name is 'Hugeness', a ferocious giant.'
But Enkidu sighed bitterly and said, 'When I went with the wild beasts ranging through the wilderness I discovered the forest; its length is ten thousand leagues in every direction. Enli has appointed Humbaba to guard it and armed him in sevenfold terrors, terrible to all flesh is Humbaba. When he roars it is like the torrent of the storm, his breath is like fire, and his jaws are death itself. He guards the cedars so well that when the wild heifer stirs in the forest, though she is sixty leagues distant, he hears her. What man would willingly walk into that country and explore its depths? I tell you, weakness overpowers whoever goes near it: it is not an equal struggle when one fights Humbaba; he is a great warrior, a battering ram, Gilgamesh, the watchman of the forest never sleeps.'
Here we have a perfect description of the wind roaring in the trees, the mystical movement of the canopy, the peculiar way sound travels in a silent forest, that feeling of always being watched, no line of sight to tell of what lies hidden, the habitation of wild beasts and legendary creatures. The tale then unfolds that the giant (or 'huge') force of the forest must be executed before any cedar trees can be taken away for building purposes or the forest cleared. Evidently the Epic contains the memory of the first woodland clearances and the start of the change in attitude towards the 'sacred' woodland. Eventually Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay the giant Humbaba, but the gods are not pleased.
Gilgamesh listened to the word of his companions, he took the axe in his hand, he drew the sword from his belt and he struck Humbaba with a thrust of the sword to the neck, and Enkidu his comrade struck the second blow. At the third blow Humbaba fell. Then there followed confusion for this was the guardian of the forest whom they had felled to the ground.
At this point they set about clearing the forest then:
They set Humbaba before the gods, before Enlil; they kissed the ground and dropped the shroud and set the head before him. When he saw the head of Humbaba, Enlil raged at them. 'Why did you do this thing? From henceforth may the fire be on your faces, may it eat the bread that you eat, may it drink where you drink.' Then Enlil took again the blaze and the seven splendours that had been Humbaba's: he gave the first to the river, and he gave to the lion, to the stones of execration, to the mountain and to the dreaded daughter of the Queen of Hell.
Penguin Classics, translation 1972 by N. K. Sandars
Contained in this tale we have execution in three ways using a bronze sword and axe, which leads to beheading of a victim (possibly the biggest tree – Humbaba) whose head is then presented to the god. In turn the god distributes light and powers ('blaze' and 'splendours') to the natural world still remaining around them, the river, the open space where the lion now lives, the place of the sacred stones, the mountain, and the place of death and burial ('Hell').
Bog bodies are found in peat, peat forms from vast amounts of forest material, forests that are usually not there any more. In literary terms we are seeing here the recording of the first relevant myth at the onset of the forest clearance phase of human agriculture when humankind ceased to be hunter gatherers and became farmers. As time progresses in this part of the Middle East the Mesopotamian god-deity Tammuz may also contain aspects attributed to the Green Man as he is thought to symbolise the triumph of life over the hardships of winter. In Babylonia and Mesopotamia we also first encounter distinctive depictions of the Tree of Life, which may ultimately relate in some way to the previous story and may have lent its identity to the one found in later Jewish mysticism.
The sun also plays a part in the wisdom of these times, specifically relating to the very existence of the life-force and as the signal for another day of life on planet earth, which should always be used wisely:
Listen to the exhortation of the dawn!
Look to this day for it is life,
The very life of life!
In its brief course lie all the verities
And all the realities
Of your existence;
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of beauty;
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well lived
Makes every yesterday
A dream of happiness
And every tomorrow
A vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day!
Such is the salutation of the dawn.
Attributed to Kalidasa and translated from Sanskrit, C.2500 BCCHAPTER 3
The Man in the Ice and the Man in the Chalk
The operations of the mind no doubt find their noblest expression in the language of speech, yet they are also eloquent in the achievements of the hand. The works on man's hands are his embodiment of thought, they endure after his bodily framework has passed into decay, and thus throw a welcome light on the earliest stages of his unwritten history.
Professor William Johnson Sollas (born 1849, died 1936) 'Ancient Hunters'
As stone technology gradually gave way to metal, the hunter societies of Europe settled into areas that archaeology can clearly identify as separate cultures. One such culture is that of the Alpine regions of central Europe, countries like Italy and Austria.
On Thursday 19 September 1991 two hikers from Nuremburg, Germany, were walking in the Otztal Alps when they came across a body sticking out of an ice sheet in the Tisenjoch area. Little did they know that they had come face to face with the last surviving complete body of a European prehistoric hunter.
Eventually the body was taken to a specially constructed deep-freeze storage facility at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano where it was carbon dated to everyone's amazement between 3350 BC and 3100 BC. Here also all the items subsequently found on and surrounding the body were identified and reconstructed.
The assemblage clearly shows a master survivalist, hunter-gatherer and, possibly at the end of his life, a warrior with a stone arrow head embedded in his right shoulder and defensive knife wound cut across his right hand. He was given the name Otzi and of particular interest to us are his axe and tattoos.
His axe is one of a tiny few complete intact examples of prehistoric copper axes in the world and it immediately pushed the Bronze Age further back than previously thought by more than a thousand years. This has now given us a new time period – the Copper Age. At some point between 4500 BC and 3500 BC European humans had clearly discovered how to mine and melt bronze from the solid rock wherever it appeared in their territories.
From a practical point of view the copper axe could cut down soft-wood trees and act as first defence if attacked, but it was no substitute for the well-established stone equivalents at this point. Copper had a more symbolic meaning as 'the metal of the sun' and as a status symbol of the very latest human technology. Some things never change!
For a society that mostly thought in pictures and symbolism, without the clutter of letters and numbers, the formula must have gone something like this:
The damp earth turns green when the sun is hot – copper comes from the earth and is green when found and mined – once melted copper turns gold – the sun is gold and glows like the opening in a crucible – therefore copper comes from the sun – and so do green plants.
There is also a much darker formula we can apply to copper:
Copper is the blood of the earth – when melted it oxidizes and turns red – blood tastes very much like copper on the tongue – copper weapons cut and release blood – weapons are the property of warriors – warriors rule over life and death.
But where does the discovery of Otzi sit with prehistoric magic? The skills of the shaman had developed greatly since the end of the Ice Ages and the men of the painted caves. The ice man's body is covered in more than 50 precise tattoos that are exclusively rectangular carbon-black blocks arranged in groups over joints, which examination has shown would have given him pain – blocks except for two. On the inside of his right knee and beside his left Achilles tendon on his ankle he has an equal-armed cross.
From this period of history onwards this type of cross can be found all over the world, sometimes enclosed in a circle and frequently associated with the sun. This is the first and so far only time that human remains have been found with a clear and direct personal depiction of a cross on the body combined with the obvious possession of a largely ceremonial copper axe. It may also represent the earliest beginnings of acupuncture, which connects directly to the 'life force' so loved in Chinese medicine. Magic, life, copper, cross, the sun, all aspects we find very much connected from this point on.
The Copper Age slowly grew into the Bronze Age through a process that spread over most of Europe and the eventual discovery that tin, and some other metals, hardened copper into bronze. This is possibly best represented in Britain in recent times with the discovery and excavation of the Amesbury Archer on Friday 3 May 2002 during construction of a housing estate and school in Amesbury Village, Wiltshire, England, about three miles from Stonehenge.
This male individual, one of several, was buried with the largest number of artefacts yet found in a Bronze Age grave in Britain. Carbon dating places the date of burial to around 2400 BC to 2200 BC and five beakers found in the grave identify him as part of the Early Bronze Age 'Beaker People' who appear in Britain at this time from across the English Channel. Most important to our voyage of discovery is the presence in the grave of three tiny copper knives and a portable 'cushion stone' anvil indicating that he was most probably a coppersmith by trade. Further oxygen isotope analysis of his tooth enamel suggests he journeyed from the Alpine regions of Central Europe. The technology of the European Copper and Bronze Age had arrived on British shores.
As a parting observation to this period in history, one unique British example of an equal-arm cross from Southworth Hall, Lancashire, England, dating to around 1440 BC can be found incised into the base of an Early Bronze Age cremation burial 'cup' with clearly mathematical internal lines; one, then two, then three, possibly representing the best known formula for British Bronze at this time – one part tin/lead/zinc (17%) to two parts nickel/bismuth (31%) to three parts copper (52%). All of these elements are known to exist and be mined in the British Isles. Zigzag lines incised into the sides of such cups and urns are sometimes interpreted to represent 'water' to show that the person cremated inside had been a trader by river or sea. Equal-arm crosses on the base of urns of this and later periods in the British Isles are relatively common.
Once discovered, copper mines (and mines for other metals) flourished in areas with appropriate geology all across Europe, indeed the world. In Britain possibly our finest and oldest examples can be found at the Great Orme, Llandudno, North Wales, and at Alderley Edge Country Park, Alderley Edge, Cheshire, both of which can be said with reasonable confidence to date back to beyond 2000 BC. Unique carved bone fragments have been found in mines and caves on the Great Orme, stained green from the copper deposits, and there was once a circular arrangement of flowers and a cat skeleton in the main body of the mine interpreted as a prehistoric offering made by the miners, but this has unfortunately been destroyed by flooding.
Copper mined from all parts of the world retains its unique 'finger print' in its chemical composition. Copper from Britain has been found as far afield as ancient Egypt, and metals from Egypt have also been discovered on the European continent (such as Iron ingots showing phaoronic marks in Germany). Archaeological finds have clearly established that countries all around the Mediterranean (and possibly the Atlantic) were connected by sea trade during the Bronze Age and later Iron Age, no doubt also widely dispersing other human developments such as religion.
Excerpted from Revealing the Green Man by Mark Olly. Copyright © 2015 Mark Olly. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd.
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Table of Contents
Introduction and Terminology 1
1 Herne and Horns 5
2 The Watchman of the Forest Never Sleeps 9
3 The Man in the Ice and the Man in the Chalk 14
4 Egypt - A Matter of Life and Death 20
5 Beyond Dark Waters 27
6 The Face of the God - We Came, We Saw, We Went Home Again 36
7 Around the World in 80 Decades 43
8 Handling Stolen Gods - The Birth of Christianity 54
9 Trying to See the Wood for the Trees - Verderers and the Church 61
10 Custodians of the Ancient Mysteries Arise 71
11 The Green Man Rides In - Forest Chapels and the 'Golden Thread' 79
12 Printing Killed the Mythological Star 88
13 Leading the Parade - Jack-in-the-Green 93
14 Fifty Shades of Green 98
15 Mystic Rhythms - It's a 'Green' World Now 102
Picture Credits for Chapter Heading Designs 111
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