Tumulus Stones And Leachta

In Pagan times, it was customary to set up large memorial stones on top of the grave-mounds of the high and mighty. The ensemble of the burial mound with a standing stone or image on top of it is the forerunner of the Celtic high crosses, set upon their pyramidal or stepped bases. In Ireland, we can see other forerunners of the high crosses in the shape of the leachta. These are small rectangular drystone structures that resemble altars. On top of each leaclit is a stone slab, often incised with crosses. Set into this is an upright stone cross, which is usually accompanied by large loose pebbles. These are used in votive rites of healing or cursing, being turned by the supplicants during prayers and invocations. The cross-slabs that stand on top of the leachta have much in common with the pillar-stones that stood on the Celtic burial-places in Pagan times. Furthermore, the Irish word leacht is derived from the Latin, lectus, meaning a bed, which is a name often gives to graves in Celtic countries. Naturally, because they are holy, no leachta have been excavated to see whether anyone is buried beneath them. Like crosses, leachta are holy stopping-places at which prayers are offered by devout people. Some sacred enclosures have a number of them, each of which has a slightly different character. For example, the island of Inishmurray in County Sligo has eleven leachta, which are used as stopping-places in ceremonial processions during religious festivals. It is likely that the erection of leachta was formerly widespread in Celtic countries, and that the enormous calvaries of Brittany that were erected much later are a development of them.

The custom of erecting a memorial stone on top of a burial mound was widespread in ancient European Paganism. We can have some idea of how they looked in former times if we visit the places in the Land of Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany where a number of Celtic mounds have been reconstructed. Among the mounds with new stones are those at Hochdorf, Echtcrdingen and Hohmichele. Unfortunately, there is too little information available as to how the stones were painted originally, or how the rings of posts that surrounded the mounds were carved. However, many Celtic mounds have been excavated, and we are fortunate that modern archaeology has recovered the splendour of some of the burials that lay beneath the mounds. The exquisite artefacts excavated from the burials of a wealthy woman at Vix in France and a high-class man at Hochdorf reflect every aspect of Celtic spirituality. In the artefacts from these and other burials we can see actual representations of themes recorded later in the Celtic spiritual literature of Ireland and Britain. They recall the ensouled world of Celtic tradition, in which every artefact is not merely an object but possesses its own unique personality.

The custom of erecting a memorial stone on top of a burial mound was widespread in ancient European Paganism.

Each thing, made a by a Celtic craftsperson specially according to spiritual principles, contains within itself multiple meanings. The interchangeable forms of Celtic art express the plurality of existence, the multifaceted experiences of life, death and rebirth. Each type of artefact reflects its own symbolic qualities and mythic traditions which to this day continue to inspire contemporary Celtic art and spirituality. On both memorial stones and crosses, the patterns of Celtic art fade imperceptibly from one form into another, yet they always retain the same essence. Each Celtic artefact, from the largest stone to the smallest coin, expresses different aspects of this essential continuity, in which the forms of this material world and the otherworldly realm of spirit interpenetrate one another. According to the Celtic worldview, the realms of animals and humans, goddesses and gods, life and death are not separate. They are aspects of a great integrated continuum, in which everything is an aspect of the whole. According to the ancient maxim, 'as above, so below', in the Celtic worldview the structure of the greater world is reflected in the lesser. This is expressed in Celtic art, whose principles reflect the basic way that nature is structured. Each carved piece of wood or stone, each tore, ring and metal fitment, however small, is a perfect instance of this principle, which was not destroyed when the Christian religion was introduced, but was nurtured and developed. Thus, the spirit of Celtic art was maintained within the Celtic church, and continued to underpin the newer Celtic culture without compromising its fundamental principles.

According to the ancient maxim, 'as above, so below', in the Celtic worldview the structure of the greater world is reflected in the lesser.

The Signs of The Eand

Tattooing is an ancient means of permanently identifying oneself. Its origins are lost in antiquity, but it has been used in Europe for over 5,000 years. 'Otzi', a man found frozen in the Austrian Alps in 1991, and dating from around 3300 bce, had a cross tattooed on his left knee and other signs composed of dots and lines elsewhere. Two and a half thousand years later, geometric hand-tattoos are depicted in eighth-century bce bronzes found at Kroll-Schmied-Kogel at Kleinklein in Steiermark, Austria. According to Herodotus, in the fifth century bce the brave and renowned Scythian warriors were tattooed, and their tombs at Bashadar, Pazyryk, Shibe and Tuekta in the High Altai region of Siberia have yielded embalmed and frozen bodies preserved well enough to show what these tattoos were like. Known Scythian tattoo motifs include beaked horses, rams, lions, fish and plants. Many Scythian beasts are depicted with spirals at the joints in the manner of the later Celtic animal artwork.

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