Thursday, October 25, 2007

Darkness visible

An otherwise sensible piece in The Times about the Bronze Age site Silbury Hill has a final paragraph as follows:

Terry Dobney, a Druid, said: “It is a sacred mound, an effigy to the element of water built on top of a vast underground lake that feeds the Kennet and the Thames rivers. This would have been a place of tremendous significance in prehistoric times when people’s lives relied on water.”
What is The Times playing at? Apart from the idiocy of the quote itself (people's lives don't rely on water today?), this is like getting a quote from an astrologer in a piece about astronomy. It's worse than stupid, it is an example of the creeping superstition of our time.

Modern Druidism is a completely invented pseudo-religion, full of Victorian romanticism, with no connection at all to the Druids, who in turn were even more removed from the first builders of Silbury Hill than we are from the Druids.

Druids were part of a religion of which we know little, except that it involved human sacrifice, often by drowning. Some Romans (most famously Julius Caesar) wrote about the Druids, 2000 years ago.

Silbury was started 2,400 years before that and the aliterate Druids would have had no record at all, and no knowledge whatsoever, of the people who completed the mound in about 2000 BC.

This chronology can be found at the foot of the Times article, beneath the quote from the modern day "Druid" - a man who enjoys dressing up in bedsheets and performing rituals that were made up a century or so ago. The costumes of modern druids owe everything to Victorian paintings and nothing at all to what little we do know of the dress of people at the relevant time. Their beliefs and rituals are pure, modern invention. Even if they were accurate, they'd have nothing to do with the much older Silbury. How completely wrong can you get? And this is the "newspaper of record".

The darkness of superstition seems to be everywhere right now.


rightwingprof said...

I'm not being confrontational or anything, but you do seem to have a lot of that sort of thing over there. We have our newage-y nuts too, but they're mostly to be found in their newage-y shops selling crystals and scented candles, not dressing up and parading over the countryside. What is it, exactly, about neopagans and the UK?

Happy St. Crispin's Day, by the way. Did you send a greeting card to the French?


dearieme said...

One does not, of course, wish to be thought rude, RWP, but some of us might suspect that in the USA the equivalent nuts attend Christian acts of worship.

Peter Risdon said...

I think we do have a lot of it here. You've been sensible enough, Prof, to isolate most of these folk in California.

We also have Christian nuts, DM, but for a fairly irreligious society, the number of people who choose to roll their own religion is surprisingly high.

Peter Risdon said...

Oh, and no I forgot. I'll link to your posts, which put me to shame.

dearieme said...

Oh well, if you want a serious answer, it's probably just that we are a less conformist country than the US, and that nonconformity sometimes comes in risible guises.

Peter Risdon said...

That's an angle I hadn't thought of, DM. Must ponder.

I've been feeling more that it's a case of Sagan's Demon Haunted World.

flashgordonnz said...

"less conformist"

There's a cyclops fuckwit that wants to change that.

Ooops: can I say that?