Fire – the energy of radical change. What do you see when you gaze on the picture below? Is it a scene of destruction, of accident and loss, that suggests war and the eradication of security? Would this be a true mirror for our own inner state, our traumas and fears? Do we feel distraught and upset in the face of this power, its wanton use – or does it speak to us of a people in harmony with the elements, with life and her cycles? We associate it with destructive energy, passions and a volatile temperament, fuel for our machine age and the heat of the Sun. It is feared and revered, sought after as power, as well as the source of comfort within our homes. It is the element that changes food for our consumption, inculcates culture, is at the root and development of our industrial revolution and, through this, furthered the enslavement of the populace to production, commodity and profit. Those that control it have, in our eyes, power to both determine and destroy, as well as suppress. We burn in fever, burn off the calories, burn our bridges…..in so many ways we have fallen out of balanced relationship with Fire and we have shaped our relationship with this essential elemental force in ways that would be unrecognisable to our ancestors. But, thanks to our ancestors we also know how to work creatively with fire, feel it burning in our hearts, feeding the revolutionary passion that brings freedom and release. Take a moment to ‘see’….perhaps there is here more to this scene than meets the eye……and then, lets take a journey to meet with the ancestors and find out!
It is the cusp between astrological Ages – the Age of Gemini is giving way to the Age of Taurus. We are journeying back some 6.5 thousand years, and arriving in the land to the south and east of the Carpathians, closer on the shores of the Black Sea. The scene is night time, under a rising full Harvest Moon, and a bristling mantle of stars is spreading over us from horizon to horizon as the daylight fades. Yet, the air is rippling with heat and great clouds of sparks fly heavenwards in swirling plumes of intense fiery energy…..a whole village stands ablaze atop the low hill before us! Powerful cracks of exploding clay, thatch timbers and supporting posts resound against the constant roar of the inferno – hold fast to the vision for a moment though, for gathered around us below the scene are hundreds of people, chanting, singing and drumming, feasting and sharing the fruits of the Earth. Some hold beautiful small clay figures in their hands, out-stretched towards the flames, others letting their babies and children play with clay animals and simple versions of the little sacred dolls.
For, this is no accident or act of agression…..beneath the hill the people have set up a hearth with a healthy fire burning in a mound of glowing embers, set on a bed of old charcoal gathered from previous fires. Arranged in a circle around this are more small clay figures, just like the ones the people are holding, images of the Earth Mother. Some of this little Mothers are seated on minature thrones, others with their pointed legs stuck in the hot Earth, each casting a dancing shadow around the fire, echoing the people’s movements. The pungent aroma of fresh herbs fills the air as the elders, those blessed with a deeper understanding and memory, feed the fire – it is a time of both celebration and preparation, before the onset of the cold seasons, and the energy is high….within the fire are new images, figurines moulded during the day from fine river clay, the Earth mother’s body, blessed with the living waters, and brought to life through the people and the sacred fire. (1)
The people have initaited the sacred fire around which they now stand, taken a burning splint and, having banked up hay bales and logs around and within their earth houses, each at their own threshold they set their homes alight. The elders have overseen the whole ritual; for we are witnessing a sacred rite, repeated every 70 years or so, at Moonrise and marking the passing of the old ones, the key elders, bringing a renewal and cleansing to the land upon which they have made their homes……from here, once the flames have subsided, they will be re-building their village on the foundations of the old, using the fire hardened clay, of which the floors and walls of their thatched homes are made, to provide solid materials that connect them with the past while freeing them to live a new cycle. Generations will follow this sacred rite and it will give the anthropologists and archaeologists something quite extra-ordinary to puzzle over when their villages are unearthed in millenia to come. We have come to call the area within which rite was enacted the Burning House Horizon. But, by the time we bring this objective label to bear its connection with the Earth Mother will be mere speculation……..
We have given these people identities that correspond to the particular hallmarks of their culture, the places in which we have unearthed them, but, amongst many similar peoples they are one people, spread out over a vast region, tribal afiliations united by a common flowering cultural impulse. They are also known to us as the Danilo, the Vinca, the Karanovo, the Hamangia, the Gumelnita, the Petresti, the Tisza, the Lengyel, and the Cucuteni……
The Cucuteni were a people finding new ways of bringing the old forward and blending it with the new – rooted within the land, holding to their ancient knowledge from the Mesolithic while embracing the new Neolithic farming ways. They now know, with the many other tribal peoples who inhabit this region, that the world is changing through human ingenuity. A revolution has been spreading far and wide, carried on their stories, encouraged through connections from afar, through journeying by land, river and sea – more will come with the arrival of visitors. The hunting and gathering ways are ‘pastoralising’, technology and culture summoning the widespread advent of ‘settlement’ as a way of living with the Earth in Old Europe. They are creating clearings in the great forests, they cultivate grains, keep pigs and cattle, herd sheep and goats, and are both ahead of their time in developing peaceful ‘conurbations’, as well as retaining the most practical knowledge of the land, the vestiges of their intimate relationship with the Earth.
There are many stages of this human revolution and transition from the old to the new happening simultaneously across the land to the north of the inland seas, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Infact it was a global revolution, spread across time and continents. Those who have adopted the new ways in Old Europe are renowned crafts people, using metalwork, weaving, pottery, construction blended with an appreciation of aesthetic beauty and spirituality. This is a culture that has its roots in the times following the retreat of the ice, and even further back to the interglacial times, when the imagination of Earth and people were one. The influences within this culture can also be traced back to peoples who migrated from the south and east and, being close to some of the major inland water routes, as well as the Black Sea, the Cucuteni and their contemporaries would have seen the influx of those influences coming in from the ‘Europian’, ‘Asian’ and ‘Mediterranean’ peoples as being a sign of the expanding growth of human learning in the ways of the world.
The halmarks of these evolving Neolithic communities that have been identified by archaeologists and anthropologists include non-heirarchical social structures, carried over from hunter-gatherer communities. They were experiencing the first flowerings of communal self-determination, harnessing the power of the natural world through their inventive technologies. As archaeologist Steven Mithen suggests in his brilliant book ‘After the Ice’ (2), these were a people of ‘choice’, able to adapt within a stablising process – they also had the ‘pioneer’ spirit of their ancestors in their blood. Through the gathering of animals and humans in rooted communities they would experience the growth of affluence and the challenge of disease – they were sowing the seeds of our own experiences within the world.
The heart of the Cucuteni culture would beat strong for a thousand years, but, they were not the last of their kind. The stone houses, sacred buriel chambers and megalithic circles that emerged out of this time kept the sacred covenant with the Earth alive. They knew a balance in life that would eventually be swept away. With the advent of nomadic warrior people from the east, the new ‘People of the Horse’ would change everything. In the end the riders would bring warring and overturn the old ways, replacing them with a fearsome blend of warrior heirarchies and spirituality and chieftain led forces that had different affiliations, fed off of the land where-ever they went. These new people were strong of will, free to impose the will of their gods and spirits upon all whom they met with as they travelled. This would in turn see the onset of ‘masculine’ force as an increasingly martial, spiritual and ‘political’ power, the birth of our politic. The Old European ways would over millenia be swept away and the images of the Earth Mother would divide, her dark side, split away, becoming subverted, a source of deep misunderstanding that marks us still – yet, She will live on, ever deeper within us. (3)
The scars of these old wounds, still present within our instinctive memory, are deeply overlayed within the cultural psyche of European and Mediterranean peoples, kept alive even as the Age of Taurus began to give way to Aries, and Aries to Pisces through our emergent myths and stories. They found inner form amongst the divided, fractured and anthropomorphised inhabitants of the spiritual realms. These wounds have become embedded and keep the dynamic alive, remaining sore and sensitive even now. Under this influence our tribalism has become nationalistic and religious. And, while no direct connection is drawn here between this and the fate of the Cucuteni and their neighbours, the foundations of their culture offer us a glimpse of something even deeper within. We sense our roots with the Earth Mother – through them Fire can be seen as a healing and creative power within the circle of life – the severence and recovery of the covenant speaks to us. But, suddenly a shout resounds and pulls us out of our historical revery and back to the now smouldering foundations of the ‘cremated’ village……
The people are busy clearing and re-storing their village – in this there is no grief or remorse; Life and Death are understood as cyclical, implicit and integral to the ways and teachings of the world. Earth turns with the seasons and the Moon holds her rhythm, counted within the sky realms, held within the waters and womb cycles of both Earth and women. We do not know their personal names, but can hear the echoes of their speech within our own, within our place names, and, we know that they were able to express a profound sense of place within the greater whole – their art and artfulness speaks of this, and this itself is of great value to us, enshrining earthy appreciation and a sense of aesthetic beauty, the budding spirit of the Neolithic Taurean Age. It also offers a mirror for reflection upon our times, how far we have come, and from where….
Our times will see great change, and we now have the opportunity to learn something of value from our links with the past while we are ourselves transitioning forward – we can burn off the old structures that harbour dis-ease and decay, the wounds and errors of our past, and clearing away the ash that clouds our vision, re-birth our connection with Earth into new forms……
This article combines documented archaeological research and theories with the results of divinations, dreaming and imagination upon these, and, while it is speculative and goes well beyond established ‘scientific fact’, it is also equally plausible and offers a view of our ancestry that will hopefully inspire further dreamings and exploration…….it opens a thread that will look at some of the ancient connections we have with the elements in future articles.
(1) The visionary archaeologist Maria Gimbutas contributed greatly to our understanding of the importance of ‘the Goddess’ in the late Mesolithic and Neolithic, her seminal books ‘The Language of the Goddess’, Thames and Hudson, 1990 and ‘Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe’, Thames and Hudson, 1974 being recommended to all interested in exploring these inspirational connections further.
(2) Steven Mithen, ‘After the Ice : A Global Human History, 20,000 – 5,000 BC’, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2003 – another superb example of imaginative archaeology; a balanced and well grounded view of our human journey beyond the late Palaeolithic exploring how we adapted to deep global climate change, with profound implications for our times.
(3)’Earth-home’ illustration © Rob Purday 2000