Professor Eoin Grogan (NUI Maynooth) gave an enticing presentation on the archeological, or material, evidence of charms in ancient Ireland, titled, “Taken to the grave – possessions, mementos or charms?” I enjoy archeology, and often search out academic papers on the topic, so this presentation was a delight for me. He touched on a few finds I already knew about, and offered some details I was unaware of.
He began with the relatively recent – and significant – discovery near Mitchelstown (which is just down the road from me). At this newly excavated site, the earliest anthropomorphic material good was found. An early Bronze Age pit was discovered with the ‘burial’ of a remarkable clay cup, fashioned into the likeness of a face. This remarkable find is unique in several ways. First, it appears (along with an accompanying vessel) to have been ritually buried. Secondly, it is fashioned into the likeness of a human face, with some stunning and notable attributes: both ears are facing opposing directions. Thirdly, the anthropomorphic cup can not stand on its own, it requires the assistance of an accompanying vessel. This accompanying vessel has not face, but it does have ears – also positioned with each facing opposing directions.
The ritually important aspect of this arrangement is evident when their placement in the pit burial is taken into account. The cups were placed in such a way, that one ear of the pair was facing a cardinal direction – and with four ears, all four directions were attended to.
Professor Grogan also mentioned the famous use of ‘poppets,’ as recorded in the Early Irish Law Series, Volume II; Uraicecht Na Ríar, The Poetic Grades in Early Irish Law; Edited by Liam Breatnach; Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies;1987:
The offended Druid, possibly along with a full contingent of students representing the seven poetic grades would rise before sunset and proceed to the top of a hill where a whitethorn (Hawthorn) grew. The Druid(s) would stand with their back to the tree holding a clay image of the object of the satire. When a north wind blew they would chant the satire while piercing the clay image with a thorn from the tree.
Evil, death, short life to Caíar,
spears of battle will have killed Caíar,
may Caiar die, may Caiar depart- Caíar!
Caíar under earth, under embankments, under stones!
Note: the Irish version looks much more poetical.
He talked about finding deer antler, unadorned, in several early medieval graves, and linked it speculatively to a European custom of a bridegroom taking an antler to his marriage bed to secure affection between spouses.
The two most provocative points were the burial in the Curragh, and the anthropomorphic bog find.
At the center of a burial complex in the curragh, a 20-30 year old woman was buried alive. They know this due to the eventual placement of limbs, and the pressure to the skull. This could have represented a willing burial, as it seems being the First interred in a burial complex was an important symbol. I was immediately put to mind of the human sacrifice of sacral kingship.
The gorgeous Yew-wood boundary marker, found in the bog at Ralaghan, Co. Cavan, which dates to the middle-Bronze Age was discussed. This sensuous carved man, has an opening for his detachable genitalia. The similarity to continental artifacts was discussed, with mention made of the detachable penis as a fertility object that would have been rubbed in many households upon entering the dwelling. The Ralaghan man seems to have been placed into the bog as a votive offering.
(Also, check-out the ‘Red Man’ of Kilbeg: an early Bronze Age idol from Co. Offaly)
Lastly, and so as not to be remiss in the recording of my own notes, a burial at Kilteasheen, Co. Roscommon was mentioned. In this burial, two individuals were placed next to each other, with large black stones placed in the mouth. The stones were placed after death, but before rigamortis had set-in. Were these individuals satarists?
NOTE – if anyone can remind me of the exact mineral or process responsible for this – or point me toward a source for the information:
Ground water absorbed in the teeth can predict the exact geographic area a person lived in childhood. Talk about being intimately connected to our Place!