ARMORICA AND THE GODS (part two)
Boars are a familiar animal in Celtic iconography and mythology. Several bronze figurines are known: some are purely Celtic in their execution; others show Roman influence, and may be connected to a Roman legion that had the boar as its symbol. The well-known Celtic shield from the River Witham in England bears traces of an earlier appliqué in the form of a stylized boar. There are many Celtic coins that include the figure of a boar as a secondary device. The coins that have this as a main design are either silver or bronze, but interestingly, almost never gold.
As I mentioned earlier, the popular interpretation of the boar on Celtic coins is that it represents a standard, based on the existence of Roman sculptures that show such standards. A better definition is that these sculptures depict boar totems.
The boar is well known for its ferocious temperament. It would be easy to make a direct association of this aspect to matters of war, and leave it at that, but there is another, almost universal meaning for the boar: the animal is dark; its white curving tusks resembles the crescent moon. Boars use their tusks, not only for fighting, but also for digging up tender roots. In France, pigs are utilized to dig for truffles. An observer would note that pigs generally have fascination with what is below the ground. Thus the pig or the boar has symbolized the underworld and night. In various mythologies, the boar is the foe of the solar hero. In an Irish myth, Diarmait is killed by a boar, which has magically been given the same life span as he; as it kills him, the boar also perishes. In the myth, the sun (Diarmait) is alive for the same period as the night (the boar), or the year is divided into two, the months where the sun is dominant, and the months where night is dominant.
The reason we do not see the boar as a main element on Celtic gold coins may be that the yellow colour of the gold symbolizes the sun. As a subsidiary symbol, the boar exists with a representation of the sun god, or solar hero; on some Armorican coins, it is attached to the head on the obverse, and is much smaller, which stresses the domination of the sun.
The boar on the Coriosolite coins is in the same position as the lyre, that is, below the pony. It appears in Group A of Series X and on all of the coins of Series Y and Z. I have discussed the possibility of a proto-legend incorporated into the design of the boar in Series Z. On the other coins, the boar is of a different design. It is standing on a base line, which has tempted most people to interpret the entire figure as a standard. This requires one to ignore the familiar sun symbol of a pellet in a circle in the middle of the line. The sun symbol is truncated by the line, giving the impression of a rising sun. The boar, representing darkness, is witnessing the emergence of the sun, which will grow and eventually vanquish it. If we imagine that the sun is not rising but setting, the meaning then becomes negative, and certainly inappropriate to its creators. An interesting variation in the boar symbol is to be found on Coin 1, where the upper line of the boar's head doubles as the pony's inner forearm, and the boar's tusk issues downward, just above the knee. A die cutter's mistake would be the obvious answer, but such mistakes do not appear elsewhere. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus, a solar hero, was wounded in that place by the tusk of a boar. Again, there is a reference to the battle between dark and light.
Perhaps the most vivid myth about the boar is related by Ovid in the Metamorphoses, in which Meleager, accompanied by a party of heroes, hunts down and slays the dreaded Calydonian boar. One of these heroes even offers a prayer to Apollo that his spear might reach its mark. On a Roman Republican silver coin, Meleager's spear pierces the boar. This coin inspired an early silver coin of the Corieltauvi (Coritani), one of the British tribes. Subsequently, later coins omitted the spear and placed sun-symbols above the boar. On coins of the Iceni, the Corieltauvi's neighbors to the south, the spear returns, intersecting the figure of the boar, and surmounted by a sun-symbol. The Roman coin design was not copied and adapted by the Celts because it circulated in their area, but because of the pertinence of the type to their own beliefs.
With the lyre and boar symbols we have two examples of syncretism: the first can be traced to Megalithic Ireland; the second, although figuring in Greek and Roman myth, probably has its origins in prehistory also, its genesis obscured by its universality.
Viewed in isolation, these symbols can have different meanings. The association of the lyre with Apollo and that of the boar with war are both logical, and these interpretations contain a germ of the truth: Apollo is the sun god who vanquishes the dark forces when he rides his chariot across the sky; the boar is emblematic of those forces, the Underworld or the house of Hades, where go the souls of those slain in war.
The cycle of the seasons is expressed by the lyre and boar symbols. The Druids probably understood this cosmic view: Caesar writes that they discussed the movements of the heavens. To the common man, these ideas were expressed in myth, with stories of solar-heroes and their dark opponents. Through Druidic instruction, the novice would memorize the legends, then in the manner of the mystery religions, be led into their cosmic significance by carefully-orchestrated "revelations." The power of the Druids over the tribe was thus protected. No one would advance to the highest levels without the most careful selection. It was essential that these secrets be kept from the uninitiated.
The endless births and deaths of the sun god were not experienced by mere humans, but we are told that the Celts believed in the transmigration of souls. This would appear to contradict the evidence of Celtic graves where warriors would be provided with goods for an after-life: weapons, food, and jewelry. Perhaps if they were killed in battle in the otherworld, they would be reborn into this world again.
The symbol used for the soul's journey to the next life was different than that used for the sun god. It was a double spiral. This symbol is universal and takes different forms in different cultures. The commonest form is the labyrinth: it can be circular or square. A line travels in a spiral to a central point; there, another line follows the same path outward again. Sometimes there is a vertical line bisecting the diagram, and the internal line avoids this. The vertical line represents the division of this life and the next.
The Celtic design of this symbol is usually a simple side-by-side double spiral; a line starts at the centre, spirals outward and then changes its direction and spirals inward. Often this is simplified to an S shape. On Coriosolite coins, this double spiral is of a simple form with some variations and is at the ear position (a similar positioning of the double spiral is encountered in Indian symbology). A second spiral is above the first, and they are hooked together. Although often appearing as two double spirals, they are actually a triple spiral, each of the three locks of hair radiating outward from each of the spirals.
The only other representation of this symbol I have been able to find is, like the lyre symbol, at Newgrange temple, and is of two forms, one with single-line spirals, the other with double-line spirals. The reason for three spirals rather than the usual two is obscure, but may represent completeness, or a return to start the cycle again. Joseph Campbell reports that the image of a spiral is seen by patients succumbing to ether; perhaps this means that is a part of the experience of other forms of unconsciousness.
As a spiral that travels inward represents death, or the journey to the underworld, so then, a spiral that starts at the centre, travelling outward represents birth and regeneration.
The spiral representing the generative powers was seen by the Celts in plant life. Trees, particularly the oak, from which the Druids derived their name, were very important to them. Various species of trees represented different ideas, and much of their symbology is derived from plants.
The curl-and-leaf motif is clearly a depiction of a shoot of some plant unfurling a new leaf. It can be taken as symbolizing the generative powers of nature, and is thus related to the spiral, which represents the portal of the underworld, bringing forth life and growth into this world. The curl-and-leaf motif appears in many places on the coins: in front of the pony as part of the reins in Group D to G; on the tail of the driver, and the pony's mane in some coins of Group G; as an emblem in front of the pony in Group H to K; in an elaborate form as the mane ornament of Group M; and finally, in the mane curl of Series Z.
Many leaves uncurl from a spiral. Notable among these are some species of willow, from which the Celts constructed wicker. In Greece, willow was associated with the underworld; later in Europe, it was favoured by witches.
Some leaves unfurl in a double scroll: this shape can be seen on the nose of the obverse head of Group K to M, also the driver's nose on Coin 82 of Group M. Among the tree leaves that unfurl in this way are apple and poplar, both species having considerable mythological references.
The pony on the later coins of Group M1 has laurel-shaped ears: this leaf shape is common to many species, including willow. The earlier coins of Group M, with the pony's ears shaped like the number 3, follow more exactly the folded leaf shape of the birch; again, a tree with considerable mythological references. Robert Graves says in The White Goddess that the birch represented the first month after the winter solstice. Readers who would wish to persue the mythological aspect of the various species of trees will find much in this book. I have dealt with it here briefly.
A clear religious connection can be made in the case of the pony's mane curl in group B, for here is a depiction of a sickle. In Greek mythology, Cronus castrated his father Uranus with this implement. Cronus (personifying time) became the Roman Saturn. He is still with us today, as Father Time: his sickle has grown to a scythe, and he is well known to revelers on December 31st. The Roman Saturn had his festival, the Saturnalia, a couple of weeks earlier. The Saturnalia survives in part in our Christmas: presents were exchanged and there was great festive indulgence. The figure of Father Christmas is really Saturn. Part of the Saturnalia that has disappeared was the election of a mock king. This is a remnant of the very early custom of sacrificing the king once his particular term was complete. To some degree it persists, with the New Year, where the baby replaces Father Time.
The Druids would gather the mistletoe with a golden sickle. Mistletoe was a plant that symbolized procreation, owing to the semen-like flesh of the berry. It might be wondered if kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas is a very tame version of an earlier practice. Many more connections could be made, but the general theme is clear: the sickle symbolized the death of the old year. It was golden, representing the sun. In megalithic times, the event would have occurred at the winter solstice. The full term of the old king could have been nineteen years, and he was the "Apollo" that Hecataeus referred to in the quoted passage.
Before leaving the subject of the spiral, I should draw attention to the form of the nose on the obverse head of Group B. This, although sometimes perceived as a shepherd's crook, is more exactly the shape of the lituus; the staff held by augurs when dividing the heavens into regions for purposes of divination. Its origins are Etruscan; the curl at the top on some early examples are of greater spiral form. The connection between Etruscan and Armorican art is discussed in Chapter 8.
There is another set of symbols of megalithic origin to be found on Coriosolite coins as well as those of many other Celtic Tribes: the quadrilateral standards appearing in front of the ponies on many of the coins of Series Y, related to the double spiral in their symbology. The commonest of the designs of these is the "Union Jack" type. Four lines intersect at the centre of a rectangle.
V. Kruta has compared intersecting lines such as this, found engraved on megaliths in Brittany, with the Omphalos, a sacred stone in the temple of Apollo in Delphi that to the Greeks marked the centre, or navel, of the world. Many such stones are known, often of the same sugar-loaf shape as the one from Delphi; some are plain, others have engraving on them of various types. A very interesting example is the one from the subsidiary chamber of the tumulus at Dowth in Ireland, where one of the designs is almost identical to the "Union Jack" styled banner on the coins. Other similar figures are inscribed on the stone, but are circular instead of rectangular. There are also a couple of spirals. All of the banners on the coins have a common denominator: the top half mirrors the bottom half. These symbols appear on many Celtic coins: sometimes they are a simple cross or an X; The engravers of the Coriosolite coins seemed to take great pleasure in finding new variations, including opposed double chevrons.
Certain ritual "spoons" have been found in Celtic graves having on them an engraved cross. In the Christian period in Ireland, the centres of crosses are emphasized with a circle. In the Christian religion, and as far back as megalithic times, the cross has represented resurrection, or, put in another way, a crossover point between this world and the next, or the boundary between our world and the underworld. The boundary was not necessarily one way. In the ancient Norse religion, the well and the world tree represented this boundary. Offerings in the well would travel back in time where they would increase (the offerings were always symbols of fertility), and hopefully provided bounties in the life of the person who made the offerings.
Recently, this belief has been unconsciously translated into the ideas of black and white holes in space. The black hole, a collapsed star, draws into itself matter and even time, which is spewed out through a white hole somewhere else in the universe. Although there is some evidence to support black holes, their positive counterparts are more of a philosophical construct. Like the world tree, the white hole does not deliver its contents in a predictable way. Modern physics has constructed another similar model in the "S matrix" theory: here, two particles colliding create two more particles. The resulting diagram, an X with a circle in the centre, can be read in any direction, even including time inversions. I am certainly not saying that megalithic people were as advanced as modern physicists, nor am I saying that modern physicists have regressed to ancient magical though, but both are concerned with building symbolic models of the universe. These models can be observed operating in various levels of reality. It is the human ability and desire to symbolize that is at the heart of the matter.
The lash that is attached to the banner is drawn in a variety of ways: sometimes it is a simple line, but often it comprises two wavy lines that form compartments, each enclosing an X. This denotes the path of the sun, or the change of the seasons, and can be seen as a continuous path through this and the underworld and back again. The belief in the transmigration of souls may also be expressed here, the endless cycle of birth and death.
In the coins of Group A and B, one end of the lash is attached tot the sun-sceptre held by the driver; in Group A, the other end is attached to a curious ladder-like emblem of four slightly curved lines followed by a bead and a crescent. The meaning of this is uncertain, but may refer to the phases of the moon. In Group B and C, the emblem in front of the pony is a cross. This could be both a representation of the chariot pole and yoke, and the cross of the omphalos.