Old Teen Essays
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Article ID: 4521
Age Group: Adult
Posted: July 30th. 2001
Excavating the Dinosaur Altar
Greetings Witches, Wiccans and Pagans,
The chipmunk was obviously feeling particularly brave and feisty that day. It was the beginning of August in 1961 and the New England wood was at its peak of lush green beauty. Wren always thought it a bit odd that the forest seemed to wear many more layers of clothing in the hottest month than it did in the coldest one. But then again, maybe that is what a thick white December blanket of snow is for. In any case, there certainly was no snow in sight on that day. It was one of those three-H days- hazy, hot and humid. And the chipmunk was plotting a raid.
From the corner of her eye, Wren spied the little striped scamp pop his head over the stone column. Little dark eyes quickly scanned the objects lying upon the stones before he dunked back down. Wren could picture him in her mind leaning his back up against the entrance to his hidden domain and working on a diagram complete with directional arrows and a timetable: "Okay, first I'll sneak around the back of the old tree stump. Then from there, it is a short munk-jump to that pink colored granite slab, a few hops up the side of the rounded boulders -watch out for the loose ones!- and then a quick in-and-out of the secret tunnel and-- whoo-hoo, lunch is served!"
The 'lunch' that was the target of our plotting bandito consisted of a few ears of early sugar-and-gold corn, a handful of tiny red potatoes, a string of pole beans and a few summer squash. All of these first harvest goodies came from Dad's organic garden and most of them were there with his permission. (Dad was REAL possessive about his little potatoes, but hey-- this WAS a special occasion!) Daisy chains and some early purple asters surrounded the harvest spread. It was still a bit too early in the season for grapes, but the vines made for a nice picture frame effect around the center of the stone. Left over granite chunks from some old homestead project, the pile had been left in the wood and forgotten. It looked much like some ancient archaeological site might appear if one suddenly stumbled upon it and the long slab resting on the top of the pile could easily have been taken for an archaic altar. That is exactly how Wren always viewed it anyway and that is how she always used it. There was a feeling of silent patience in the little grove surrounding the stones. New England woods and New England stones are old. They have seen a lot. They know a lot. And they wait to be discovered in the forgotten places. Wren and her Dad knew that this was such a place of old wood and old stone and they visited often. So did the chipmunk.
Forty years later, Wren puts down her book and chuckles. Rereading "The Triumph of the Moon" by Ronald Hutton for the umpteenth time, she recalls that August day in the wood and wonders what would happen if hundreds of years from both that August day and this August day some archaeologist or anthropologist stumbled upon her little altar set-up in the New England countryside. Perhaps traces of vegetable fibers and plant materials had miraculously survived. Perhaps the trail marks to the grotto were still barely discernable and maybe the scientist- like the child- saw an altar in the tumbled pile of granite. And perhaps this scientist also might uncover the secret stash of 'sacred writings' which the child had left bundled up in a piece of sailcloth and had so carefully placed in the natural cave-like opening beneath the entire structure. What would this archaeologist, this anthropologist think that he/she had found? And that is what made Wren chuckle. For the secret and 'sacred writings' that she often removed from the nook to ponder as a ten-year-old were those of considerable interest to many a ten-year-old: dinosaurs. Yes, Wren brought her favorite books and plastic dinosaur figures-which at this time in her life were mainly stegosauruses and brontosaurs- into the woods during the quiet days of August and stocked them away again when she left. So here based upon such evidence, our future anthropologist might easily decide that he/she had found some ancient forgotten shrine dedicated to the worship and veneration of dinosaurs!
In our present age of incredible medical and scientific breakthroughs, the discovering, uncovering and dissecting of our human past and parts is considered to be an admirable vocation and pursuit. Much knowledge of how our Ancestors lived and worshipped and what they believe may indeed come to be discerned by such worthy investigations. Many people-and scientists, archaeologists and anthropologists in particular- believe that the more one can pick apart a thing, the more one can learn about its nature and function. And the more one can learn about its nature and function, the more one can classify it as being part of a particular family of biological genus or cultural class of humanity. We can then define it. We can then describe it. We can then say what it is and what it is not. We can then give it a name. And what we can name, we can control.
Many Pagans and those who are interested in Paganism as a sociological or religious movement are trying to name the thing. "What is Paganism? What is a Witch?" are common questions in many discussions. For if Paganism is this or that and a Witch is such and such, then anything outside of the definitions agreed upon is NOT Paganism or is NOT a Witch. That satisfies greatly those who need those 'established facts' upon which they may begin to plan their intellectual arguments which in turn may control what Paganism and Witch and Wiccan and Heathen must conform to in order to be considered legitimate and 'real'. And then both Paganism and Witch and all of the other aspects of the emerging new paradigm can be controlled. Appeals to historical accuracy, while noble in their efforts to maintain a continuum of beliefs and rituals, may in themselves be flawed if the intellectual or scientific discovery is rendered wrong via the interpretation of the evidence. If the Ancestors always did it this way-and we can determine what 'this way' definitively was- anything outside of 'this way' would be not the 'right way'. But what the 'right way' may have been is still unknown and will probably ever remain so if the sole reliance or burden of proof rests with academia alone.
Scientists and sundry other investigators of that persuasion cannot really dig up anything more than what remains of the physical traces of some human activity. They may guess-and they may be correct or not- on what a certain thing was used for or what it might have represented. Without a written record, ancient sites can only tell us just so much about the religions, beliefs, values and rituals of our Pagan Ancestors. But these things alone cannot tell us everything and even more to the point, they perhaps cannot even tell us the most important thing.
Ancient sacred sites were used, constructed, venerated or found by real people just like us. Some of the people who sometimes frequented these sites may have been the equivalent of a Pagan clergy if such a thing existed at the time. But most of the days and months and years, the place was left alone and wild and open. And if indeed our Ancestors and we today are not that far removed from each other in spirit, people would wander over to these special powerful spots in woods and upon hills and leave their own personal offerings as they were moved to do. No one told them what was the 'proper' offering to leave or the proper time in which to leave it: they just gathered up what they had or what was available in that time when they felt moved to visit the place and they then lay them there. And maybe they had brought a little picnic lunch and sat a while and enjoyed the feel of the place for a while. And the children played games and chased each other around the rocks and throughout the woods. And perhaps some bandit of a squirrel or chipmunk or raven plotted a raid on the goodies and it didn't seem to spoil the 'sacredness' of the moment one bit. And the People then heard the woods and the stones. The People, the Ancestors dreamed mighty dreams there and saw many wonderful omens and portents and signs. And these dreams, these rememberings, these feelings of the place, these truths concerning the beliefs and practices of our Pagan Ancestors will never be unearthed by any scientist digging in the dirt or pulling up the stones.
The beauty, the wisdom and the beliefs of our Ancestors can be found where they always have been and where they always remain. In the wild places of the wood and of the stone lie keys that open the doors of perception. But it has always been and will always be in the things that cannot be dissected, cannot be properly catalogued, cannot be fully pigeonholed or cannot be properly and scientifically defined that the real essence of Paganism and Witchcraft exist.
Forever free, it is in the unfettered dreams and visions of our People, our Ancestors and ourselves where the spirit of Paganism will always be found.
Walk in Love and Light,
The Witches' Voice Inc.
Image Credit: The forest shot to your upper right was taken at CMA Beltane by Don Waterhawk
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