Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pagan Artifacts

Here's an interesting story about what appears to be a significant discovery of Saxon war booty, much of it made from gold. There's some speculation about whether the person who buried the treasure was Pagan.

Mr Whykes believes the booty belonged to a [P]agan king.

"Some of the items, which might actually be slightly later, would certainly seem to be Christian," he said.

"We've certainly seen crosses, one of which seems to have been deliberately broken and the other seems to have been deliberately folded in on itself, so it may be as simple to say that this is a [P]agan king who's taking religious artefacts and stopping them being religious artefacts."
Earlier, the article describes some of the items and notes that: "It's mostly sword fittings, which is quite incredible. There are also strips of gold decorated with garnets, which as yet we haven't been able to identify, strange little gold snakes," he said. Although the article doesn't discuss the possible religious significance of those "strange little gold snakes," I wonder if their presence doesn't also point to, if not the religion of the person who buried the items, at least to Pagan worship among those from whom the items were taken. The snake, of course, is an ancient symbol of the Goddess. Another article reports that: Perhaps the most intriguing question of all raised by the finds concerns religious belief. As well as the three crosses found in Staffordshire, there is a piece of gold bearing a Biblical inscription from the Book of Numbers. This would suggest that Christianity was widespread in seventh-century Britain.
However, the evidence at Sutton Hoo appears to point the other way. There, the remains of a huge ship – about 90 feet long – were discovered with an intact treasure chamber at its heart. Although some Christian symbols were discovered at Sutton Hoo, the burial itself was [P]agan. So what was going on?
"My own feeling is that this was a period of great intellectual liberty," says Carver. "There was no over-arching authority to tell you what to think. Some people were Christian, some people were [P]agan and you had a considerable amount of interplay between the two."
At the least, scholars expect the find to cause new thinking about the period when Christianity was becoming more popular than Paganism.

Leslie Webster, a former British Museum curator and specialist in Anglo-Saxon culture, saw the treasure last week. "It will make historians, literary scholars, archaeologists and art historians," she says, "think again about rising (and failing) kingdoms, the transition from [P]aganism to Christianity, the conduct of battle and the nature of fine metalwork – to name only a few of the many huge issues it raises."

And, there's another interesting element to the story. The items were found by an amateur metal detectorist -- one of those guys who goes around with those beeping metal poles. On the day that he found the items, he invoked ancient spirits to help him find the gold:

Mr Herbert described the day he found the treasure, including a spooky [sic] detail before he set out for his day's detecting.

"I have this phrase that I say sometimes; 'spirits of yesteryear take me where the coins appear', but on that day I changed coins to gold," he said.

"I don't know why I said it that day, but I think somebody was listening and directed me to it... This is what metal detectorists dream of, finding stuff like this. But the vast amount there is is just unbelievable."

Hopefully, the items will end up in a museum and subject to study by archeologists and religious historians.

Photo found here

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