Monthly Archives: December 2016

Can you see me?

Gesta Danorum (“Deeds of the Danes”) is a patriotic work of Danish history, by the 12th century author Saxo Grammaticus (“Saxo the Literate”, literally “the Grammarian”).

It consists of sixteen books written in Latin and describes Danish history and to some degree Scandinavian history in general, from prehistory to the late 12th century. In addition, Gesta Danorum offers singular reflections on European affairs in the High Middle Ages from a unique Scandinavian perspective, supplementing what has been handed down by historians from Western and Southern Europe.

The sixteen books, in prose with an occasional excursion into poetry, can be categorized into two parts: Books 1-9, which deal with Norse mythology, and Books 10-16, which deal with medieval history. Book 9 ends with Gorm the Old, the first factual documented King of Denmark. The last three books (14-16), describe Danish conquests on the south shore of the Baltic Sea and wars against Slavic peoples (the Northern Crusades), are very valuable for the history of West Slavic tribes (Polabian Slavs, Pomeranians) and Slavic paganism. Book 14 contains a unique description of the temple at Rügen Island and Slavic pagan rituals that took place there.

The original name of the island Rügen or Danish Rugia at the Baltic Sea was Rujan (meaning red in Old Slavic); thus the name would in translation imply ‘The Red Island’. The autochthonous inhabitants of the island were the Slavic tribe, the Rujani, whose name was cognate with the island’s; thus translating as “people from Rujan” or “red people” or “redheads”??? After the destruction and/or assimilation of the Rujani by the Danes, in 1168, the original Slavic name of Rujan was corrupted as Rügen in German and Rugia in Danish.

According to Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus, and also Chronica Slavorum by Helmold, the main temple on the Island was located in Arcona, late renamed to Jaromarsburg. The temple was dedicated to the god Svantovit (Svetovid), the main Sun god of the Slavic pantheon, and was used from the 9th to the 12th century. It contained a giant wooden statue of Svantovit (Svetovid) depicting him with four heads (or one head with four faces) and a horn of plenty. 

The temple was also the seat of an oracle in which the chief priest predicted the future of his tribe by observing the behavior of a white horse identified with Svantevit (Svetovid) and casting dice (horse oracles have a long history in this region, being already attested in the writings of Tacitus). The temple also contained the treasury of the tribe and was defended by a group of 300 mounted warriors which formed the core of the tribal armed forces.

The main ritual was celebrated once a year, at the end of the harvest at the beginning of November (Samhain?). All the inhabitants of Arcona gathered in front of the temple on this occasion. On the eve of the celebration the priest, who contrary to the common people had long hear and beard, meticulously cleaned the chapel, to which only he himself had access. The ritual which took place the next day was described by Saxo like this:

The following day, when the people camped out by the temple doors, the priest took the horn from the statue’s hand and carefully examined it to see whether the drink in it was evaporating, which was taken to be a warning that the harvest would be poor the next year, in which case he [the priest] obligated the people to save something of their current harvest for next year.  If the drink did not disappear, that foretold a bountiful year.  Thus, depending on what the horn predicted, he ordered the people either to save their harvests or to use them till they be sated.  Next he poured the wine as an offering at the feet of the statue, filled the horn anew and pretended as if he had drunk to honor him [the God], while at the same time he asked with lofty words for success/good luck for himself and the people of the country, for riches and for victory, and after that he brought the horn to his lips and drank all of it in one gulp, and thereafter he filled the horn again and placed it in the statue’s right hand.


There was also there as an offering an oval-shaped honey cake which stood almost as tall as a man. The priest would place it between himself and the people and asked thereafter whether they could see him [from behind the cake].  When they answered him, he then wished them that next year they should not see him, whereby the meaning of this was such that he did not mean death to himself or the people but rather that the next year should be bountiful [i.e., and the cake bigger].

Next he blessed his people in the name of their God, told them that they should honor Him with frequent offerings, which he expected as a the right payment for [their] victories on the land and sea.  And when this was done, they spent the rest of the day on a great feast, where they ate the offerings [for the God], so that that which was consecrated for the God they themselves ate.  At this feast, it was believed pleasing to the God to get drunk and as a sin to remain sober.

You can find the description of this ritual in “The Handbook of Religions in Ancient Europe” By Lisbeth Bredholt Christensen, Olav Hammer, David Warburton.

The “oval bread” the Slavic priests at Arcona were hiding behind is still made in Serbia as a traditional Christmas cake. The bread is called “česnica” and is an oval bread which is decorated at most with the cross, making it look like the “Celtic cross”. 

This is actually the solar agricultural cross which symbolizes  solar year divided into four parts by two solstices and two equinoxes. Sometimes the cross will have small semi circles on the edges of the cross hands. These are called “hands of god”.  They represent the three months of every season. You can read more about the solar cross in my post “Two crosses“. Česnica can also contain additional decorations symbolizing various crops, farm animals…

The preparation of this bread used to be always accompanied by various rules and rituals all indicating the Pre-Christian origin of this bread: 

The česnica is baked on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning by the head of household or the woman of the house. The person who will prepare the česnica must bathe before that. In eastern and southern Serbia, after they kneaded the dough for the česnica, the head of household or the woman of the house take hold with dough-stained hands of the fruit trees, beehives, and cattle to make them more fertile.

Dough is usually made with wheat flour. But the flour is taken only from a full sack or the flour is milled from the last sheaf of wheat from the previous harvest. The water for the dough is in some areas collected on Christmas Day before sunrise from a spring or a well, into which a handful of grain is thrown. It is called the “strong water” or “living water” and is believed to be imbued with beneficial power. Or the water for the dough is collected from three springs. 

A coin is put into the dough during the kneading, some families using the same coin from year to year; it may be a valuable piece. In some regions, little figures carved from cornel wood, representing chickens, oxen, cows, swine, bees, and the like, are also put into the dough. In other areas, the inserted objects include grains, broad beans, walnuts, tufts of wool, twigs, and splinters from various wooden buildings. In Semberija, families insert a piece of the first splinter produced in felling the badnjak (young oak tree which is the traditional Serbian Christmas tree). Badnjak is ceremonially burned through Christmas eve on the house fire. In Jadar, western Serbia, the number of embers of the badnjak equal to the sum of grain and livestock sorts grown by the family are taken out of the fire and placed on the česnica. Each of the sorts is associated with its own ember on that loaf. The sort whose ember retains its glow longer than the others should be the most productive in the coming year. In Bosnia, when the dough is shaped and ready for baking, a number of notches are cut in the upper surface of it, and seeds of various crops are placed into the notches. The more a notch has risen when the česnica is baked, the more productive the crop whose seed is in it will be in the following year. To ensure an abundance of grain, some people place a bowl filled with grain on the česnica.

All of this indicates that česnica is directly linked with fertility and particularly grain fertility. 

The word “česnica” could be derived either from the noun “čast” meaning honor, or “čest”, meaning “share”. Both roots describe this bread perfectly. It is a bread made in honor of Dabog, Triglav, the Sky father, the father of grain who was in Christianity replaced with Christ. The bread is also made to be shared. 

In Serbia Christmas dinner is the most festive meal of the year. It begins about noon, or even earlier. The family members seated at the table stand up when the head of household gives a sign. The head makes the Sign of the Cross and lights a candle, before blessing the gathered relatives and saying a prayer, after which they all kiss each other while saying, “Peace of God, Christ Is Born.” The head of the family and another man of the family hold the česnica between themselves, rotating it three times counterclockwise. The fact that česnica is turned three times shows that the bread was originally dedicated to Dabog – Triglav. The counterclockwise rotation of česnica is an example how an old Pre -Christian ceremonies and symbols which could not be eradicated where in Christianity turned into its opposites. Originally česnica must have been turned clockwise, to the right, the way the sun moves across the sky. Making people turn česnica counterclockwise implements magical way of destroying the symbol’s power by either turning it upside-down, or the other-way-round. We see this being used over and over again with Christianized pagan symbols, rituals and beliefs…Anyway, after it is rotated, the česnica is then carefully broken among the relatives, so that each of them gets his own piece of the bread, without a crumb falling off. Bread falling onto the ground, and throwing bread away are still considered a big sin in Serbia. 

Up to three pieces of the loaf may be set aside: one for the absent relatives (if there are such), one for a stranger who might join the family at the dinner, and one for the položajnik (polaznik), their first visitor on Christmas Day (if he is not present). The rest of the česnica is consumed during the dinner. The family member who finds the coin in his piece of the bread will supposedly be exceptionally lucky in the coming year. The head may try to buy the coin from this lucky relative. Each of the other objects hidden in the bread indicates the segment of the household economy in which the person who finds it in his share of the česnica will be especially successful. 

Now remember the giant bread from Saxo’s description of Slavic pagan fertility ritual? They are still made in Serbia too. These are giant communal česnica breads which are ceremonially broken and shared among all the members of the community. Or at least everyone quick enough to get a piece 🙂 

And we have ethnographic evidence that česnica breads were in the past used for the same “peekaboo” grain fertility ritual described by Saxo. 
In his dictionary, Vuk Karadzić says this about the verb “milati”: “I have heard that in Herzegovina people “milaju” at Christmas with česnica (large round flat Christmas bread, cake). This is what they do: Two people take česnica, one of them holds it in front of himself and asks the other: “Milam li se”? meaning “Am I visible? Can you see me? Am I sticking out from behind the cake?” The other man then says: “Milaš malo” meaning “you are visible a little, you are sticking out a little”. The man holding the bread then says “Danas malo a dogodine ni malo” meaning “This year a little, but next year hopefully not at all”. 
Ljubomir Pećo noted the same custom among Croats in the village Zabrđe in Bosnia. 
Similar custom was recorded in Old Serbia. Jastrebov, in “Obыčai i phsni tureckihь Serbovъ. S. Petersburgъ”, 1886, str. 41, upor. i RJA talks about the custom called “milanje”: A househusband hides behind a pile of breads and asks his family: “do you see me?”. The family members reply “We see you this year, but we hope not to see you at all next year”, meaning “We hope the grain harvest next year is so big, and that we can make so many breads, that you can hide completely behind them”. 
In some parts of Old Serbia and Makedonia, the househusband hiding behind the Christmas cake says “You see me now, but may god give such huge ears of wheat this year that you wont see me at all behind them. Sometimes the “milanje” ritual was performed in Serbia at the end of the harvest with newly harvested grain. In the village of Grmljani in Lika near Trebinje this ritual was performed during the threshing of grain on the threshing floor. A pile from newly threshed grain was made on the threshing floor. Two people would stand on the opposite sides of the pile. The first man would then ask the second: “Do you see me?” and the second would answer: “I don’t see you”, to which the first man would reply “May god give that you don’t see me next year either!”
The word “milanje” comes from “maljanje” which comes from “malo” meaning “a little”. So the meaning of “milanje” is “sticking out a little”…
This is a magical ritual which is performed with the intention to give god a hint to make the next years grain crop even bigger. In a way people are trying to trick god, as bread used in the ceremony is never big enough for a person hiding behind it to fully disappear from view, no matter how big the harvest was. 
This custom was also preserved as a a new year or all souls (samhain), end of harvest, thanksgiving tradition in some other Slavic nations. 
Ukrainians and Belarusians have the same custom, except that they use a shief of wheat instead of bread. 
Karpatho Rusyns have the same custom. In the article about Christmas and New Year customs of the Rusynes, written by Mykola Musinka on “carpatho-rusyn.org” we read that most magic customs were connected with Christmas Eve (Svjatyj vecur, Korocun, Vilija). On that day the husbandman covered the floor with straw. An unthreshed grain sheaf, usually oats (called in some localities “Didko” or “Diduch” meaning grandfather), was placed on the honorable seat at the table, i.e., “into the corner” under the icons. According to historical and ethnographic literature, in the archaic Slavic homes one corner was reserved for a representation of the pagan gods. Oats or straw were also used for decorating the festive table on which there had to be seeds from all crops. In the spring these very seeds were used in the first sowing. The oats and straw had a magical function in pagan society: they were expected to secure plenty of fodder and grain. Christianity provided another rationalization for the custom, stressing the birth of Jesus on straw and oats, thus transforming the two into symbols of that event. Also placed in the place of honor was the festive bread (korocun, kracun) decorated with wintergreen or periwinkle (barvinok) and various small figures. Prosperity was symbolized by a “mountain” of bread at the end of the table. At the beginning of the evening meal the husbandman hid behind this “mountain,” asking: “Can you see me from behind the bread mountain?” The children replied in a chorus: “We can’t,” after which the husbandman concluded: “Let us wish you’ll not see me either in the spring from within the hay or in the summer from within the wheat!”
So….
So lets recapitulate. 
Serbs are people whose main deity was once Dabog (giving god) also known as Hromi Daba, and Triglav (the three headed one). They have a special votive bread called “česnica” which they bake for Christmas, the Christianised Winter Solstice, the end of the solar year. They use this bread for magic ritual related to fertility and good fortune. The bread is round made from sweet dough. A coin is put into the dough during the kneading. In some regions, little figures carved from cornel wood, representing chickens, oxen, cows, swine, bees, and the like, are also put into the dough. In other areas, the inserted objects include grains, broad beans, walnuts, tufts of wool, twigs, and Christmas tree splinters… The bread is broken by family or community members and consumed during the Christmas dinner. The family member who finds the coin in his piece of the bread will supposedly be exceptionally lucky in the coming year. Each of the other objects hidden in the bread indicates the segment of the household economy in which the person who finds it in his share of the votive will be especially successful. This bread seams to have also been made at the beginning of November, for the thanksgiving ceremony marking the end of the harvest and the end of the agricultural and vegetative year. Saxo Gramaticus in the 12th century mentions this bread as the votive bread made by Pagan Slavic tribe known as Rujani, (red, redhead people???)  who lived on an island of Rujan (red, redhead people???) island, which lies just of the coast of South Baltic, which Slavs call Pomorje meaning seaside. People from Pomorje are known as Pomori, Pomorci. 
Now this is very interesting because:
The Irish are people whose main deity was once Dadga (giving god) who is believed to be another name of Crom Dubh, and who is possibly the god who was represented by three headed idol found in Ireland. The Irish have a special votive bread called Barmbrack which is today made for Halloween, Christianised Samhain. Samhain, which was originally celebrated at the beginning of November, was the thanksgiving ceremony marking the end of the harvest and the end of the agricultural and vegetative year. Barmbrack  traditionally contained various objects baked into the bread and was used as a sort of fortune-telling game. In the barmbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be wed within the year. Samhain was also the time when Fomorians extract their taxes of corn, milk and live children. Fomorians were an evil race of people who came from across the sea and their name is said to mean “sea (seaside???) people”. Samhain is also the time when the Irish sacrificed first fruit, including first born children, to the evil god Crom Cruach (Crom Dubh). Samhain was also the time when a demon known as Aillén Tréchenn (from trí ceann, three-headed) came from Cruachan in Roscommon, and caused havoc in all of Ireland, especially Emain Macha (Armagh) and Tara.  O and in Irish the word “rua” means red-haired person. 
Do you think that this is all a coincidence? Or maybe there is some kind of connection here? 
But the best part is still to come: 
The etymology of the word “barmbrack”. In Ireland “barmbrack” is sometimes called “Bairín Breac”, and the term is also used as two words in its more common version. The official translation of “Bairín Breac” is 
bairín – a loaf – and breac – speckled (due to the raisins in it), hence it means a speckled loaf, a similar etymology to the Welsh “bara brith”. Bara brith comes from Welsh “bara” meaning bread and “brith” translating as speckled”
But this Welsh name could just be a direct transliteration of the Irish Bairín Breac. The Irish Laigin, who gave their name to the province of Leinster, used to rule the north Wales Llŷn Peninsula, which was named after them. So I believe that they might have brought this bread and the name with them. 
But that is beside the point. The important bit is that I don’t think that the translation of the “Bairín Breac” as “speckled bread” is correct. Sure now raisins are added to the dough, but I don’t think that the ancient Irish had access to grapes and raisins. I believe that this is a recent addition to the recipe and that originally the “Bairín Breac” was made from plain sweat leavened dough. I believe that the correct translation for “Bairín Breac” is patterned bread, bread which has patterns inscribed on it. Why? Because believe or not the word “breac“, apart from meaning speckled, which by the way also means patterned, has another very interesting meaning: carve, engrave, mark with letters, figures, to write…Now this is most interesting because it perfectly describes “česnica” which is always marked with letters, figures, patterns…Decorating of special votive breads with patterns has been practiced in the Balkans since early Neolithic. Special bread stamps were developed for stamping breads probably to standardize and make easier the inscription of the religious patterns used by all the members of the community. Some of the patterns and patterned stamps actually haven’t changed since neolithic and are still used on votive breads today. 
Vinča culture was one of the cultures which decorated their breads with patterns and which had bread stamps and votive breads. I mentioned one of these votive breads in my post about Newgrange, because a giant stone copy of the small Vinčan clay votive bread stands in front of the entrance into Newgrange. 
This is small Vinča votive clay bread:

This is giant Newgrange votive stone bread:
Both of these votive breads are decorated, inscribed with patterns and symbols. Both of them are “Bairín Breac”. Both of them are “česnica” breads. 
Now remember the Redhead Rujani people from South Baltic. On Samhain, they would bring a giant, inscribed, patterned česnica bread in front of the temple entrance, and the priest would hide behind it and would ask his people: “Do you see me”? Serbs performed the same ritual on Christmas day, the Christian replacement for Winter Solstice. 
Newgrange tumulus is aligned with the sunrise on the Winter Solstice so originally it was probably used for ceremonies on Winter solstice morning, beginning of the new Solar year. However Irish tradition strongly associates Newgrange with Samhain, so it is possible that the original alignment and use of Newgrange was over time forgotten and the date on which Newgrange was used for ceremonies shifted from Winter Solstice, the beginning of the new Solar year to Samhain evening, the beginning of the new Agricultural year. Regardless of how and when Newgrange was used for ceremonies, I believe that Newgrange was used as the temple of the divine marriage of Heaven and Earth, the marriage which produces grain, bread. Hopefully lots and lots of big breads, as big as the votive stone bread standing in front of the tumulus entrance. Or bigger. So is it possible that similar to the Slavic tradition, a pagan priest would come out of the Newgrange tumulus on Summer Solstice or Samhain, stand behind the giant votive stone bread and ask his people: “Do you see me?”. 
Well we will never know, but… 
Sources for “milanje” ritual in the Balkans:
Српски рjечник, истолкован њемачким и латинским риjечма” Вук Стефановић Караџић (Dictionary of Serbian language by Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic)
Srpski Mitoloski Recnik – Grupa Autora” (Serbian mythological dictionary)
Stara slovenska religija u svjetlu novijih istraživanja posebno balkanoloških” – Akademija nauka i umjetnosti Bosne i Hercegovine, 1979
Christmas in Croatia” by Dunja Rihtman-Auguštin
“Kalendar srpskih narodnih obicaja” by Mile Nedeljkovic. Not available online

Wren or wran?

The wran, the wran, the king of all birds…
This is wren. The Wren is small and rather inconspicuous. But it lives life at a fast, relentless pace and it sings this way too – it trembles as it puts everything into its song, which lasts about 5 seconds and usually ends in a trill.They are either the first or one of the first birds to start singing at dawn and once they start their song is so loud that it drowns out everything else. So they are known as the heralds of the rising sun. 
In European folklore, the wren has always been considered the king of the birds, as its name in European languages indicates. Aristotle and Plutarch called the wren basileus (king) and basiliskos (little king). In Latin he was known as Regulus – prince. In French, Roitelet – little king. Celtic names of the wren (draouennig, drean, dreathan, dryw etc.) all mean druid bird, and in Welsh the word dryw actually means both druid and wren. It is the same in Germanic languages. In Teutonic wren is Koning Vogel meaning king-bird. In Old German wren is Schneekönig meaning snow king, in Modern German wren is Zaunkönig meaning king of the hedge and in Dutch wren is winterkoninkje meaning winter little king. The same situation is in Slavic languages. In Serbocroatian wren is carić maning little tzar, in Russian wren is korolek, in Ukrainian wren is korolik, in Sorbian wren is kralik, In Slovenian wren is kraljiček, in Slovak wren is hrdlik all meaning prince, little king. 
It was generally believed that wren brought good fortune and harming the bird or its nest was strictly forbidden. It was also believed that anyone who broke this taboo would die from a lightning strike. 
Well wren was considered the bringer of good news everywhere except in Ireland where he was considered to be the bringer of bad news. This is the list of local beliefs related to wren from Ireland from “Pagan Celtic Britain”, by Ann Ross, Chapter VI, page 260:

…if it call from behind you importuning of your wife by another man in despite of you. If it be on the ground behind you, your wife will be taken from you by force. If the wren call from the east, poets are coming towards you, or tidings from them. If it call behind you from the south, you will see the heads of good clergy or hear death tidings of noble ex lay men. If it call from the south robbers and evilkinsmen are coming. If it call from the north west, a noble hero of good lineage and noble hospitallars and goodwomen are coming.
If it call from the north, bad people are coming whether warriors or clerics or bad women and wiched youths are on way…

So no wonder that in Ireland on Christmas day wren was hunted and killed…
Long ago, on Christmas day, in Ireland, group of men an boys, called “wren boys” go out “hunting the wren”. Pursuit of the bird persisted into the early years of the 20th century. Accounts relate that for a day or two previous to the holiday wren was, ‘hunted and knocked over with stick or stone. Two or three of them were tied to a branch torn from a holly bush, which was also decorated with coloured ribbons. Sometimes a pole or a basket was used to carry the dead wren. If the group as “unlucky” and couldn’t find and kill a wren, an effigy, a bird doll was used. 
Yates drawing of “wren boys”
Then on the St Steven’s day, the “wren boys” or as they are sometimes called “straw boys” get dressed up in masks, straw suits, and colorful motley clothing, and go from home to home displaying the dead birds and begging for money “to bury the wren.” They play music instruments, sing and make a lot of noise. At the door step of each home the ‘Bean an Tí’ (the woman of the house), is beseeched:

The wren, the wren, the King of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze.
So up with the kettel and down with the pan,
and give us a penny to bury the wren.

The house that is least generous is likely to have the wren buried under their door, “through which no luck would then enter for a twelvemonth”

Here are some pictures of “wren boys” or “straw boys” from Ireland:

Similar traditions of hunting the wren have been performed on the Isle of Man on Boxing Day and in Pembrokeshire, Wales on Twelfth Day (6 January, the old Christmas day) and, on the first Sunday of December in parts of Southern France, including Carcassonne. 
What is the explanation for this strange custom? Why, of all birds, is this tiny bird chosen as the martyr for display by groups who take their name from it? 
Apparently because of its treachery. Here are the explanations given in Ireland for this custom:
When the Irish forces were about to catch Cromwells troops by surprise, a wren perched on one of the soldiers drums made a noise that woke the sleeping sentries just in time, thereby saving the camp.  
Another explanation is that wren betrayed St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, by flapping its wings to attract his pursuers when he was hiding in a bush. 
Another explanation for the hostility towards this most harmless of creatures says that it is all the result of the efforts of clerics in the middle ages to undermine vestiges of druidic reverence and practices regarding the bird. Medieval texts interpret the etymology of wren, the Irish for which is dreolín, as derived from ‘dreán’ or ‘draoi éan’ the translation of which is ‘druid bird’. So once venerated and protected bird, whose harming was by the Irish believed to be punishable by death by lightning, became the target of the ritual killing on the same day when it was originally celebrated. 
The last explanation for the hatred towards wrens is also the explanation for how wren got to be called the “little king”.This explanation is associated with the fable of the election of the “king of birds”. The story goes like this. The birds decided to elect the king of birds and decided that the bird that could fly to the highest altitude would be made king. The eagle out-flew all other birds, but he was beaten by a wren that had hidden in his plumage. And when the eagle tired, the wren flew out above him and won the race. 

This fable is already known to Aristotle (Historia Animalium 9.11) Plutarch (Political Precepts xii.806e) and Pliny (Naturalis Historia 10.74). 

Plutarch implied that this story teaches us that cleverness, trickery is better than strength. Hmmmm…Great lesson….

What is interesting is that this old fable is actually still told as a fairy-tale in Ireland and in Slavic lands. 

In Irish version, god wished to know who was the king of all birds so he set a challenge. The bird who flew highest and furthest would win. The birds all began together but they dropped out one by one until none were left but the great eagle. The eagle eventually grew tired and began to drop lower in the sky. At this point, the treacherous wren emerged from beneath the eagle’s wing to soar higher and further than all the others. And this is why wren is hunted and killed. In Irish the word Dreoilín means wren and the word dreolán means trickster…

In the Slavic version the bird which flies the highest, while carrying the wren hidden in his feathers,  is eagle (in East Ukrainian and Polish version) or heron (in West Ukrainian version) or stork (in Sorbian version). Once the eagle (heron, stork) out-flies all the other birds, wren flies out of its plumage and out-flies the eagle (heron, stork). 

That wren is seen as trickster in Slavic mythology can be seen from the fact that wren is also known as “obluda” meaning “trickster”, “durisvit” meaning “charlatan, fool”, “zvoditelj” meaning “joker”. But in Slavic version of the story, the trick is discovered and wren is forced to run and hide in order to avoid punishment. In Ukrainian and Sorbian versions of the story, this is not the end. Angry birds decide that because they could not find the king of the bird through a “who can fly the highest” competition decide to stage a context in “who can get the deepest”. The bird that can get the deepest into the ground will be the king of the birds. And again wren won the contest. The wren scientific name Troglodytidae is derived from the word “troglodyte”, which means “cave-dweller”. The wrens get their scientific name from the fact that they forage in dark crevices and hide from the cold in holes just like mice. This small, brown bird that scurries through the undergrowth and into log piles and holes in search of insects and any other small animals, particularly beetles and spiders, from a distance actually looks like a mouse. Thus in Ukrainian and Polish tradition, wren is also known as mouse king. It is interesting that Icelanders also consider wren to be the “mouse’s brother”. 

The Celts and the Slavs seem to have understood the story slightly differently from the Greeks. Wren’s trickery was not seen as virtue but as a crime, a sin…punishable by death…

Are Slavic wren stories versions of older Celtic stories preserved in Central Europe when Celts morphed into Slavs? Or does this story about the cheating wren predate both Celts and Slavs? Or is this story about the cheating wren a later corruption of a much earlier story which doesn’t involve wren at all but another bird whose name sounds very much like wren, making the wren an unfortunate victim of a mistaken identity? 

Let’s see what we can dig out. 

Remember that wren forages and hides in holes in the ground, in “the underworld”. This makes wren, the bird that can be under ground, on the ground and in the air “the bird that connects the three worlds”. 

As I already said, wren is the first bird to start singing in the morning. And the loudest. This is why wren is known as the herald of the rising sun. 

So every evening both the sun and wren go underground. And every morning wren emerges from the underground before the sun does, effectively out-running the sun during their race from the underworld to heaven. Now the bird most associated with the sun is eagle, who is the solar bird pretty much in every religion in the northern hemisphere. So wren racing the sun can be nicely represented with wren racing an eagle. Is this the origin of the story about the bird race in which a wren beat an eagle?

Also because wren announces the arrival of the sun, during the Pagan times, wren, the “little king of birds”, was announcing the arrival of the Sun, the “big king of heaven”. That is a particularly important role in sun worshiping religions. No wonder wren was so venerated and protected. 

European Wrens are migratory in some parts of Europe, flying anything up to 2500 km (1500 miles) with some migrating all the way from Scandinavia down to Spain. But in British Isles wren is one of the few non migratory songbirds and is often the only bird singing during the winter solstice period. Its song on the Winter Solstice morning, not only announces the sunrise, it announces the beginning of the new solar year, the birth of the new sun, new sun god, new little king of heaven.

Christmas is repackaged Winter Solstice and that many old rituals related to winter solstice were moved to Christmas. So instead of the birth of the new sun, new sun god, little king of heaven which happens on the Winter Solstice morning, we have the birth of baby Jesus, the son of God the king of heaven, which happens on Christmas morning. Now correct me if I am wrong, but the son of the “king of heaven” is defacto the “prince of heaven” or the “little king of heaven”. Right?

When the Winter Solstice celebration of the birth of new Sun God was replaced by the Christmas celebration of the birth of the Son of God, Christians didn’t want to be reminded of the old Sun God by the wren, who was still announcing his arrival. So Is this why wren had to die on the day the new Son of God was born to replace Sun the God? Look at the day on which the dead wren, the dead herald of the old Sun God was paraded around. That day is the day after the Christmas day, the St Stephen’s day. Now who is this St Stephen? St Stephen or St Stephan is traditionally venerated as the Protomartyr or first martyr of Christianity. Now this means the first one to be killed in the name of Christ, Son of God. And the first to be killed in the name of the Son of God is Sun the God. New young Sun God, old “little king of heaven”, which used to be born on the day of the Winter Solstice is now killed on Christmas day, replacement for the Winter Solstice, and is replaced by Son of God, new “little king of heaven”. And the day when this “first victim of Christianity” is celebrated is St Stephen’s day. Funnily name Stephen or Stephan was originally a title meaning “crowned” or king, the origin of which is in the  Ancient Greek word “στέφανος” which means crown. It was the title given to many kings in medieval Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Poland. So the death of the old “little king” and the enthronement of the new “little king” is celebrated on the day of Stephen, the day of the “crowned one” the day of the king. Do you think that there is some kind of symbolism here? 

But this is not all.

Why is the killing of wrens or disturbing of their nests punished by thunder? And why is it said that wren is the bird of Lugh, the Celtic thunder god? Well to understand this we need to look at what happens to the newly born Sun God after the Winter Solstice.

Remember my post “Two crosses“?

As soon as he is born on Winter Solstice, the Sun God starts its ascend to the throne. He finally sits on its throne on Summer Solstice. This is the day when the sun reaches the highest point in the sky above the northern hemisphere. This is the maximum sunlight day. One would expect that the day after the Summer solstice, as the days start getting shorter the weather would start getting colder. But that is not the case. The days start getting shorter but the weather continues to get warmer. Until the 2nd of August. This is the maximum heat day. This is the sun at its maximum strength. After that the days finally start getting cooler.

In Serbia the 2nd of August is Perun day, but also the day of Ilija Gromovnik, the Thundering Sun, the Thunder Giant. In Serbian Thunder Giant is Grom Div. In Ireland 2nd of August is the day of Chrom Dubh, the Sky God and the main agricultural deity of the old Ireland. But also the day of Lugh, the thunder god.

Now if we look at wren life-cycle we will notice something very interesting. This is an excerpt from Edward Armstrong’s THE WREN (1955) which talks about wren’s singing patterns:

Usually there is little song in January apart from imperfect phrases, lacking in verve, during the day, especially in the morning if the weather is mild, and some rallying songs at dusk, if it is severe. …. Favourable weather in February elicits a fair amount of morning song, a song or two in the afternoon and a little regular song before roosting. … In March [if the weather is mild] there is intermittent singing for two or three hours in the morning, an increase in the evening output and a general advance towards day-long song .. at the end of the month, when nest-building has begun, song is in every way well developed. … In April there is still more territorial song … apparently there is some diminution in May [when females are incubating or, towards end of May, feeding young] … it is difficult accurately to assess the output of song at this stage as individuals vary according to the phase of the breeding cycle. … In June many reach their highest daily production of song and a few young Wrens begin to sing at the end of the month. During July song decreases and deteriorates, and some adults go almost out of song, but the number of juveniles singing increases. The moult in August is accompanied by an abrupt diminution of song, so far as most adults are concerned, but the birds of the year frequently utter their broken ditties, mainly during the hour and a half after sunrise. This may continue until about the beginning of October when song becomes bolder and clearer, though still incomplete. In November if the weather is [mild], there is little change: Wrens are heard for about half and hour after sunrise and a few phrases are uttered in the late afternoon and towards sunset. Song diminishes in December, but even when it is freezing Wrens occasionally engage in song duels.

So wrens sing the most around Summer Solstice period as befits the herald of the Sun. But they get almost completely silent around Crom Dubh, Lugh, Ilija Gromovnik, Perun day. And this is the only time when these loudmouths shut up. Why? The reason for the sudden silence of wrens, is the annual moult: a complete change of feathers after the final wear and tear of the breeding season. Even juveniles are changing into adult plumage. Moulting takes energy, as the bird’s metabolism speeds up to grow new feathers and push out the old ones. The birds become lethargic, reluctant to fly very far, and spend much of the day resting in deep cover. Keeping their beaks shut.

And this coincides with the period when Summer turns into Autumn and the beginning of the harvest. For early farmers this must have been very auspicious. As I wrote in my post about the Sky Father, the beginning of the harvest is the most critical period of the whole grain vegetative cycle. Sudden storm, heavy rain and particularly strong winds can destroy everything farmers worked for the whole year. On Summer Solstice Sun God was powerful and merciful. On the 2nd of August he is even more powerful but he is angry, angry because his reign is coming to an end. This is why 2nd of August is the real seat of the Sky God. Because this is when he is most dangerous.

And in Serbia, on the 2nd of August people celebrate St Stephen the Wind maker. This saint is Christianized version of Stribog, the old Slavic wind god.

In the epic “Slovo o polku Igorovu” it is said that the winds are the grandsons of Stribog. He was imagined as an old man who had a warrior’s horn with which he woke the winds up. Stribog was especially worshiped in Kievian Russia where they built idols dedicated to him…Festivities in Stribog’s honor were organized in the summer as well as in the winter.

Now I know that the Eastern Slavs worshiped Stribog as a separate deity, but I believe that Stribog was just an attribute of Perun. Here is why. 

Eagle was his sacred animal. Just like Perun’s. His sacred plants were hawthorn and oak. Just like Perun’s. His day was the 2nd of August. Just like Perun’s.  When pledges were made, Stribog was often guarantor who would punish cheaters and wrongdoers. Just like Perun. 

Also apparently we don’t officially know what Stribog means. Well in Serbian the word “trti” means “to rub in, to stomp in, to erase”. The word “strti, zatrti” means “to destroy utterly, to level to the ground”. The word “stri, zatri” is an imperative of “strti, zatrti” meaning “destroy utterly, level to the ground”. So Stribog = Stri, Zatri + bog = destroy utterly, level to the ground + god = The one who destroys utterly, who levels to the ground. 

This is wheat field destroyed by a storm. 
All the stalks are broken by wind and rain. This is the nightmare of all grain farmers. And this is what “strti, zatrti”, “to destroy utterly, to level to the ground”, means. This the terrible power that the Sky God, the Thunder Giant wields. 

Basically Stribog was the destructive face of Perun. It is interesting that Stribog was replaced by Stefan or Stepan. In Serbian the word “tepati” means “to hit, to beat up” and the word “stepati, zatepati” means “to destroy utterly, to level to the ground”. Stepan is the one who “destroys utterly, who levels to the ground”… So Stepan could be stepa + on = destroy utterly, level to the ground + he = the Destoryer. Maybe St Stepan (Stefan) is just another version of Stribog and has nothing to do with crowned and king? Or maybe you only get crowned as a king when you utterly destroy, level to the ground everything that stands in your way…Interesting… So it is no wonder that Stribog was the favorite god of military commanders. Even more interesting is that the word “stepan” also means destroyed, leveled, which is what happens to someone who was stoned to death like St Stepan, Stephen…I will not even go into how come an early Palestine saint, the first martyr of Christianity who was stoned to death, has a name which in Slavic language means”the one one who was utterly destroyed, leveled, killed”…

And here is the best bit: Stribog was particularly popular with princes, who often built his idols and worshiped them….There is something poetic about the fact that Stribog was the favorite idol of the princes, who are waiting for their fathers to die so that they can inherit the throne. Perun as Stribog is the sun god in is most terrible, super powerful but on the way out and knowing that he is on the way out. The winter is coming and his power is vanning and in December he will die and will be replaced by his son, the “new sun”, “little king of heaven”, “prince of heaven”. And there is nothing Old Sun God can do. This is just the way things are. 

I love this. 

So during this “dangerous” harvest period, during the reign of Perun the destroyer, Stribog, wren doesn’t sing. It hides and it looks like it has disappeared. Well this looks like a fitting announcement of the arrival of the old cranky god, don’t you think? Run and hide… And then it starts singing again when the harvest is finished and the reign of the sun is over. Right on time for the arrival of the Lady, Virgo. Is this why there is the link between the Storm god and wren and why those who harm wrens are punished by thunder? I also believe that the fact that wren is in Slavic countries also known as “bull’s eye” is another thing that confirms this link between the Sky god in his terrible Destroyer role and wren. The sacrificial animal of both Perun and Crom Dubh was bull…

O and by the way in Japan, the wren is labelled king of the winds…

But it is possible that the hunt actually originally happened on winter solstice day but that the bird that was hunted was not wren but wran, vran meaning crow, raven.

In English tradition, “the cock robin and the jenny wren are the Queen of Heaven’s cock and hen”.
The shape-shifting Fairy Queen took the form of a wren, known as “Jenny Wren” in nursery rhymes.

In my post “Babje leto – Grandmother’s summer” I talked about the transformation of the old mother goddess into Mary the mother of god, the Queen of heaven. According to the old Serbian and Celtic tradition, the year was divided into two parts: the white, light, warm part dominated by the Sky father and the black, dark, cold part dominated by the Earth Mother. These two opposites mix during the year and produce life. But in their extremes they are both destructive and bring death. 

The period between the Summer solstice (21st of June) and the beginning of Autumn (2nd of August), is the extreme Sky Father period. This is the period symbolized by the Eagle. The period between the Winter solstice (21st of December) and the beginning of spring (2nd of February) is the extreme Earth Mother, Baba, Cailleach period. This period is symbolized by crow and raven. In my post “Bran Vran” I talked abut the word “bran, vran, wran, fran” which is found in both Slavic and Celtic languages and which means “crow, raven” but also “black”.  Crow and ravens, the ominous black birds of death are sacred birds of the mother goddess in her most extreme form as the old hag of winter. 

The eagle, the big king of the summer skies and the crow, the usurper, the little king of the winter skies. Interestingly crows are the only birds which are not afraid of eagles and are known to gather in groups and attack eagles…On top of this crows and ravens are the smartest birds. So if any bird was to outsmart an eagle and use smartness against strength it would have been crow (wran) and not wren. 

In Ireland the “wren boys” don’t actually sing “The wren, the wren, the king of all birds…”. They sing “The wran, the wran, the king of all birds…”. Is this just the mispronunciation or were the original “wren boys” actually “wran boys” who didn’t hunt wrens but “wrans”, crows and ravens?

Crows and ravens can devastate the grain fields during the winter and early spring. They gather in huge flocks, land on fields and can basically poke and pull every last seed out of the ground. This is why farmers since the time immemorial considered crows their enemies and built scarecrows

Now here is again the picture of the “wran boys”:

Don’t they look like scarecrows dressed in old mismatched colorful clothing? And look at the “straw boys”. Don’t they look like walking grain stacks? 

Giant grain stacks, good harvest, is reason why crows (wrans) are killed… 

The “wran boys” go through the fields, bang drums, blow pipes and shout. Just what you want to do if you want to scare the crows and ravens (wrans). And if you also manage to kill a crow and raven (wran) or even many crows and ravens (wrans) even better. And to prove that you have done your job of protecting the fields well, you attach the dead crows and ravens (wrans) on the holy branch and parade them through the village and you ask for money to bury them. And you kill the crows and ravens (wrans) on the day of the Winter Solstice, the day when the Sun is reborn, to help the Eagle win over crows, to help light win over darkness, to help the summer win over winter…

Remember how in Ireland wren was considered the bringer of bad news, which is the role dedicated to crows and ravens in Slavic countries where wren always brings good news? Did someone seriously misunderstand something here? I believe so. I believe that the old custom of killing crows and ravens on Winter Solstice was, when the meaning of the word “wran” was forgotten, replaced with killing of wren, which is the closest English word that sounds like “wran”…

What do you think?

I will leave you with this great song by Snakefinger and Residents called “Kill the great raven”. You can hear the song here.

Kill the Great Raven 
Kill the Great Raven 

His tiny eyes, they search the skies 
He looks so alone, so he must die 
“Oh, does he really have to die?” 
“Oh yes, he really has to suffer” 

Kill the Great Raven 
Kill the Great Raven 

And when he dies, 
to his surprise 
The sun will set 
and he will rise
“Where will he go?” 
“He’ll become the sun of course. 
We must have one you know…

Kill the Great Raven 
Kill the Great Raven 

Budi

I give you this as my Christmas present. Read it and think about it. I hope it will make your life better and happier. 
These are stećak standing stones from The Balkans. They are found in Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia. 

And this is an an “alleged” inscription from one of stećak standing stones from Hercegovina. I have found it on the Wikipedia web page about medieval standing stones epitaphs. The reason why I said “alleged” is because I have no way of verifying whether it really is or isn’t genuine medieval tombstone inscription. So all I can do is trust the source (for now) and then go and check it later.  

But the reason why I am writing this post is actually the content of the message. Here it is:

Here I lie on my own noble land. My name is Vlk (Wolf) the son of Hum. Take what I am going to tell you, but don’t trust me.  You are you and I am I so our truths don’t have to be the same. When you are like me, take stock of your life just like I did. 

Don’t hope that what is yet to come is going to last for ever, but also don’t feel regret for what has passed. Most people have small knowledge and big expectations. They will therefore always accuse yesterday for what is going to happen to them tomorrow. You should love the moment you are in and the lips that kiss you. 

Later on your bones will, like mine now, peacefully sleep under a heavy stone. Don’t knock down my tombstone, let it stand as it stands now. If you don’t understand what I am telling you now, maybe some son of your son will understand me one day. 

I lied here on an accursed day in the year 1209.

Talking about Buddhist mindfulness…Be in now. That is all there is… 

The man lying under the stone was not a Buddhist. He was just “budan”. In Serbian the word “budi” is an imperative of “to be”. It is a command or a suggestion to live in now, to exist in the present. And the word “budan” means “awaken”, the one who “is” here and now….

So the man whose epitaph “allegedly” this is, understood the big secret of now. But when did he get this understanding? On his death bed? Or was he lucky to gain this understanding earlier? Maybe this is a message, genuine or not, that is intended to wake us up before we reach that moment of no return and help us live the rest of our lives “awake”, which is the only way to truly live…

If you don’t understand what I mean, maybe you should read this book: “The power of now” by Eckhart Tolle. It is the best explanation of what mindfulness is I have ever come across. Maybe then you will understand. But if you don’t, don’t throw the book away. Give it to your children and maybe some child of your child will understand it one day…

And take what I just wrote in this post, but don’t trust. See for yourself…

Here is the original in Serbian:

A se lezim rad na svojini plemenitoj. Ime mi Vlk ot Humske zemje sin. Ono tsto tcu ti rejti ti privati al nejmoj mi vjerovati. Tij si ti, ja sam ja pa nam ni istine ne moraju biti iste. Kad budnes ko ja svedi svoj ratcun tko tsto svedoh ja svoj.

Ne najdaj se da tce biti vjetcno ono tsto tce tek dojti, al ni ne zali za onijem tsto je projslo. Vetcina ljudi ima malo znanje a velka otcekivanja. Oni tce zato uvijek optuzivati jutce za ono tsto tce im se dejsiti sijutra. Ti voli trenutak u tkome jesi i usne koje te jube.

Kasnje tce ti kostji ko sada moje mirno snivati ispod terzka kamena. Ne prevali mi biljega mojega, pusti ga da stoji kako stoji. Ako me ne razumijes sada ti mozda me razumjedne tvojega sina neki sin.

V proklet dan legoh v godini 1209.

Newgrange

This is Newgrange, a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland, located about one kilometre north of the River Boyne. It was built about 3200 BC. Newgrange is a large circular mound (tumulus) with a stone passageway and chambers inside. The mound has a retaining wall at the front and is ringed by ‘kerbstones’ engraved with artwork. There is no agreement about what the site was used for, but it has been speculated that it had religious significance.

Once a year, at the winter solstice, the rising sun shines directly along the long passage, illuminating the inner chamber.

This illumination lasts for about 17 minutes. The sunlight enters the passage through a specially contrived opening, known as a roofbox, directly above the main entrance. Solar alignments are not uncommon among these so called “passage graves”. Which makes you wonder if they were graves at all or maybe temples where distinguished and important people also got buried, in the same way distinguished and important people were buried in cathedrals and churches… Anyway, Newgrange is one of few of these tumuluses with solar alignment to contain the additional roofbox feature; Cairn G at Carrowkeel Megalithic complex is another, and it has been suggested that one can be found at Bryn Celli Ddu. The alignment is such that although the roofbox is above the passage entrance, the light hits the floor of the inner chamber. This is because the entrance corridor is built in such a way that it climbs upwards towards the main chamber.

Today the first light enters about four minutes after sunrise, but calculations based on the precession of the Earth show that 5,000 years ago first light would have entered exactly at sunrise.

Every year on winter solstice morning, hundreds of people gather to whiteness this event. And today, the 21st of December 2016 is no different. Except that hundreds of people who gathered in front of Newgrange today are going to be pretty pissed off. It’s pissing with rain and the sky is covered with thick clouds, so it is unlikely the sunlight will enter the chamber today.

Why did our ancestors build Newgrange the way they did?

The whole construction of the Newgrange tumulus indicates that it was constructed as a shrine dedicated to the holy union between father sky and mother earth. The tumulus is shaped like a pregnant woman’s belly. The inside of the tumulus resembles female reproductive organs. 

The door (vulva, vaginal opening) leads into a long narrow passage (vagina and cervix) which climbs upwards and eventually opens up into corbelled, domed chamber (uterus) with three side chambers. Each of the smaller chambers has a large flat “basin stone”. The tow side ones (ovaries) and the top one (fundus). The fundus, the topmost portion of the uterus and is known as the roof of the uterine cavity. During pregnancy, this is usually when the fertilized egg implants. 

And guess what the sun rays hit then they penetrate the inside of the tumulus? The bawl located in the top chamber, the fundus….

On top of this the entrance is shaped like a penis, with the roofbox, or better lightbox, being the head of the penis:
Just in case you didn’t get the hint yet 🙂
Anyway, the sun rays entering the main chamber deep inside the earthen mound and hitting the bawl in the fundus is literally copulation, intercourse between the father sky and mother earth. The fact that Newgrange was aligned with the sunrise on the Winter Solstice, allows the young father sky to penetrate mother earth on the first day of the new solar year, and thus ensure the mother earth’s fertility. The whole construction was designed to help young father sky “find the way”considering that he was just born, and lacks experience and practice… 🙂  I believe that the idea was that once the young father sky did it once, he will not be able to stop and will keep at it for the rest of the year….Because it is this copulation, intercourse between the father sky and mother earth which produces all life on earth. 

And bread…Which is really why people bothered making Newgrange. They needed grain, and without father sky getting mother earth hot and bothered and pregnant, there will be no grain and no bread…And this brings me to the mysterious stone that stands in front of the main entrance of the Newgrange tumulus. 

This is Newgrange entrance before excavation and renovation. You can clearly see the carved stone standing in front of the entrance. 

This is what Newgrange entrance looks like now. The carved stone is still standing in front of the entrance into the tumulus. 

Why is this stone placed in front of the entrance and what does this stone represent?

I believe that this stone is a huge votive bread. It is placed in front of the entrance of the tumulus, because this entrance represents vulva and vaginal opening of the mother earth. As I said I believe that Newgrange was designed to represent pregnant mother earth in a shape of a pregnant woman’s belly together with reproductive organs. And as pregnant women give birth to babies through the vaginal opening, to continue with the symbolism, this votive bread was placed in front of the entrance (which is in this case viewed as exit) to symbolise mother earth giving birth to bread. And to give mother earth a hint how much bread we want her to give birth to. A lot.

Why do I think that this stone represents votive bread. Well have a look at these two pictures:

Entrance stone, with carved diamond and spiral ornaments, Newgrange, Ireland, 4th millennium BC:

Ritual clay votive bread with carved diamond and spiral ornaments, Potporanj – Kremenjak, Serbia, Vinča culture, 5th millennium BC, currently in Vršac museum. Quite a few of these ritual clay breads were found in Vinča sites, and they all have these types of decorations: 

See any similarity? 
Now remember my article “Clay balls – Stone balls“? 

In it I talked about the possibility that the origin of the Scottish so called “stone carved balls” could be found in the clay amulets from Serbia. And clay amulets found in the Boyne valley, and dated to the same period as Newgrange and which are almost identical to the the ones from Vinča sites…
At the end of the article I said that the carved balls were not the only type of artefacts which were first found in Vinča cultural layers in the Balkans, small and made of burned clay, only to be found later in Britain much larger and made of stones. Progressively bigger and bigger stones. 
This is another example. A small votive clay bread from Vinča culture became a huge votive stone bread. But the message stayed the same:
Holy mother and father give us this day our daily bread….A lot of it….
It looks like the British Megalithic culture could be in a way the continuation of the Vinča culture. Vinča culture which somehow got to Britain and there went Megalomaniac and Megalithic. 
What do you think about all this?

Fulacht fiadh – sweat lodge?

Some fulacht fiadh reconstructions, such as the one at Ballyvourney, include circular, hut-type structures based on the post holes found at the sites. One theory is that these small buildings on site were used as sweat houses. This theory was based on:

1. In Irish legends, Fulachta Fiadh were not just described as “the cooking place of the Fianna” (Fianna – small, semi-independent warrior bands in Irish mythology). They were also said to have been used by Fianna for bathing. 

2. Ireland has a very long tradition of sweat houses which are in Ireland called “Tigh ‘n Alluis” meaning houses of sweat.

Traditionally the Tigh ‘n Alluis was built in the form of beehive huts made of dry-stone walls covered in clay and turf, with seats within which were covered with straw or grassy sods upon which the subject sat or lay. It usually had a small opening in the roof and a low doorway, both were covered by flag-stones when the subjects were inside.

The Sweat House was heated by a variety of means, most commonly by igniting a large peat fire in the hut’s centre and clearing the ashes before entering. The fire would heat the stone walls which would then radiate the heat towards the inside of the hut. Another method was by heating bricks, which were carried into the house in a creel in which herbs had been placed, especially when inhalation was a part of the cure.

This description of the use of sweat houses is taken from ‘Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland’ by W.G. Wood-Martin:

When men used it as many as six or eight stripped off and went in, when all openings were closed except what afforded a little ventilation. A person remained outside to attend to these matters. When they could suffer the heat no longer, the flag was removed, and they came out and plunged in a pool of water within a yard or two of the sweat-house, where they washed, got well-rubbed and put on their clothes. In case of women, they put on a bathing dress whilst using the bath, and generally omitted the plunge…

Another description of the Gaelic sweat houses and their use can be found in the book “A smaller social history of ancient Ireland, treating of the government, military system, and law; religion, learning, and art; trades, industries, and commerce; manners, customs, and domestic life, of the ancient Irish people” by Joyce, P. W. (Patrick Weston):

The hot-air or vapour bath was well known in Ireland, and was used as a cure for rheumatism down to a few years ago. It was probably in use from old times; and the masonry of the Inishmurray sweating-house, represented opposite, has all the appearance—as Mr. Wakeman remarks—of being as old as any of the other primitive buildings in the island. The structures in which these baths were given are known by the name of Tigh ‘n alluis [Teenollish], ‘sweating-house’ (allus, ‘sweat’). They are still well known in the northern parts of Ireland—small houses, entirely of stone, from five to seven feet long inside, with a low little door through which one must creep: always placed remote from habitations: and near by is commonly a pool or tank of water four or five feet deep. They were used in this way. A great fire of turf was kindled inside till the house became heated like an oven; after which the embers and ashes were swept out, and water was splashed on the stones, which produced a thick warm vapour. Then the person, wrapping himself in a blanket, crept in and sat down on a bench of sods, after which the door was closed up. He remained there an hour or so till he was in a profuse perspiration: and then creeping out, plunged right into the cold water, after emerging from which he was well rubbed till he became warm. After several baths at intervals of some days he commonly got cured. Persons are still living who used these baths or saw them used.

Knowing this, it easy to see how the theory that the fulachta fiadh were used as sweat houses – baths could have sprang forward.

In the “Cois tSiuire – Nine Thousand years of Human Activity in the Lower Suir Valley” by Eogan, J. and Shee Twohig we can see this reconstruction of a Fulacht fiadh used as a sweat house.

On the above artist’s depiction of a fulacht fiadh used as a sweat house, you can see the low domed yurt type hut full of people. On the left if the hearth where stones are heated. These stones are then brought into the hut to create heat. In front of the hut is the through used as a plunge pool. Again I have to repeat, that only throughs cut into a well drained dry soil, or into the reiver bank or a beach could have been used as plunge pools. It is quite possible that the fulacht fiadh through found on the Coney island could have been used as a bath.

You definitely don’t want to lay into a through cut into a marshy boggy soil which is full of acidic bog water…

Anyway, the hut on the above depiction of the fulacht fiadh looks very much like the “inipi” sweat house used by Native American.

This is a short instruction how to build this type of sweat lodge hut.

Building the “inipi” sweat lodge frame

The average sweat lodge hut has a diameter of about 9 feet. This is why. You need to dig a pit two feet in diameter in the center of the lodge. This is where the hot rocks are placed to heat the hut. You then need to be able to sit cross legged facing the hot rocks at about 2 feet from the rocks. Add about 5 feet for sitting area, enough for a person sitting cross legged leaning against the wall. You end up with 9 feet.

Use a short sharpened stick and stick it into the ground. This is the center of your hut. Attach a string to it. Stretch the string two feet from the stick. Attach another smaller sharpened stick (drawing stick) to the string and draw a circle two feet in diameter. This is where the hot rock pit will be dug later. Stretch the string another 5 feet. Reattach the drawing stick to the string and draw a circle 9 feet in diameter. This is where the hut wall will go. A nine foot diameter lodge will seat twelve people comfortably.

The frame can be made from willow or hazel, but any sapling will do. You need about 12 saplings with about two inches in diameter each. After the saplings are cut, the branches need to be removed and the bottoms need to be sharpened. Stick the sharpened ends into the ground at an equal distance around the drawn outer wall circle, leaving an opening for the doorway. You have to make sure the saplings are embedded deep enough into the ground so they hold firm when they are bent and tied together to form the domed frame. The bend of the sapling should allow for a large man to sit comfortably. Don’t build your lodge too tall or it will be difficult to heat. Bind the opposite saplings together to form arches and then tie the arches together to form a dome. To strengthen and reinforce the hut structure, weave sapling horizontally between the upright saplings and tie them together. The procedure is as if you are building a large upturned basket.

Covering the “inipi” sweat lodge

Originally the Native American sweat lodge huts were covered with hides, then blankets and then with hides again. This combination of materials provides both thermal insulation and is water resistant. Today you can use any combination of the materials with the same characteristics: plastic sheets, tarps, blankets…

The bottoms of the covers should lay on the ground for about a foot. Pile rocks on the bottoms, all around the sweat lodge. This is to seal the bottom up from drafts. You can make the door from several folded blankets wider than the opening.

Using the “inipi” sweat lodge

In order to turn the hut into a sweat lodge, you need red hot rocks. For the 9 feed diameter hut probably about 20 – 30 red hot rocks. Rocks are heated on the pyre burning in the fire pit which should be built facing the hut entrance. Like this one in the picture below.

The sides of the fire pit are covered with the rocks from previous sweats. They are not reused because most get pretty cracked. As the fire pit is cleaned for the next heating of the stones, the ashes and coals are swept on the sides of the fire pit. Then the stones from the last sweat get piled on top. This results in the creation of a U shape burned mound just like the burned mounds in fulachta fiadh.

When the rocks are red hot, they are dragged into the hut using long forked sticks or carried using into the hut using a long handled pitchfork. There they are pushed into the hut’s rock pit which is positioned in the center of the hut.

Once the rock pit is full of hot stones, people sit inside the hut around the stones and the entrance is covered with blankets. As the temperature inside the hut rises, people will begin to sweat. Water can be splashed over the hot rocks to produce steam and turn the hut from sauna into a steam room.

It is very important to note that the Native American sweat lodges are temporary structures which once dismantled would leave very little to no footprint, apart from the burned stones and hearths used for their heating. Add the through used as a plunge pool and you have the fulacht fiadh…

Also these sweat lodges can be made by a small group of people in several hours. Fianna, the people who supposedly build fulacha fiadh (or as they are also known fulachta fian) were in the Irish legends small, semi-independent warrior bands. It is believed that they are based on historical bands of landless young men in early medieval Ireland known as kerns. Geoffrey Keating, in his 17th-century History of Ireland, says that during the winter the fianna were quartered and fed by the nobility, during which time they would keep order on their behalf, but during the summer, from Beltaine to Samhain, they were obliged to live by hunting for food and for pelts to sell.

So these hunting bands would set into the wilderness in May and would, once reaching their hunting grounds, need a place to rest, recuperate, clean up. And the “inipi” type sweat lodge plus a through serving as a plunge pool or a bath is easy and quick to make and run and is ideal for a hunting party which stays in one place for a week and then moves on. These hunting parties probably moved following rivers as the easiest ways to travel through thick forests. And they would probably follow the same route through their hunting grounds every year, camping at the same camp grounds and reusing the old sweat lodges year after year. After several years the amount of burned stones would accumulate to the point where we would see appearance of characteristic “burned mounds”.

Now what is interesting to note that the Native Americans who built “inipi” sweat lodges, used exactly the same technique to build their lodgings, huts used for living. The Native Americans called these types of huts wigwam, wickiup or wetu.

This type of domed, round shelter was used by many different Native American cultures. 
This is Apache wickiup
This is Ojibwe wigwam
These videos show how to make a wigwam using primitive tools:
The rock pit in the center of the inipi sweat lodge became a fireplace in the center of the wigwam. The seating area along the wall used for sitting in the inipi sweat lodge, became sitting and sleeping area in the wigwam.  
What is very interesting is that some Irish archaeologists suggested that the Irish round houses didn’t, as is commonly accepted, look like this:
 but that they were actually wigwam shaped domed structures. 

Here is a reconstructing a Late Bronze Age dwelling based on the continuous beehive basket weave method put forward by Damien Goodburn of the museum of London.
The layout of the dwelling is based on structure 12 which was excavated during the Ballyhoura hills project in Ireland. The basket walls were made from hazel coppice, young offshoots of the hazel tree which are ideal for basket weaving and are with willow coppice the best material for making baskets. To finish the shelter, you would proceed by covering the basket frame with some kind of waterproof material. 

But basically they could have been just build using the above described wigwam construction technique, which is identical to the the technique used for making sweat lodges, which is the same technique used for making wigwams. 
Please note how these huts look almost identical in shape to the “Tigh ‘n Alluis” Irish sweat houses just made from different material….
Now interestingly the translation of “inipi” is actually not “sweat lodge”. The actual translation is “The way we live” or “We live” or “A shelter which can be both a sweat lodge and a spiritual place and a lodging and a living place….”.
And 
Remember how fulacht fiadh were also called fulacht fían? Well the word fían does mean “a warrior” and “a hunter” and “hunt” but the word fían also means “bedding, cover” and “a hunting-bothy“, “a hut made of branches or similar construction in a forest or wild spot, an improvised shelter”.
Maybe something like this Mesolithic Ertebolle culture hunters hut perhaps?
Maybe Fiana hunting camp looked something like this:
It’s easy to make, functional shelter used world over for millenniums…
So….
Regardless what the permanent Irish bronze age houses looked like, is it possible that the hunter warrior gangs, like Fianna, built fulacha fiadh as their temporary campaign camps, consisting of a group of wigwam type huts plus a through, plus pit ovens? We have seen that these types of shelters are extremely easy to make. And that once built they could be used as lodgings, storage rooms and sweat lodges. Everything hunters and warriors on the campaign need in a camp. We also saw that these huts can be heated by fire-heated stones or hearths. And that once dismantled, they would leave very little trace behind except for hearths and mounds of burned stones. 
Is this what fulachta fiadh were? 
Interestingly, there is a place in Europe where we still find a particular type of temporary shelters which are built by soldiers, hunters and travelers on campaigns, which are very similar in construction to wigwams or inipis, which are heated by fire heated stones, and which are used as sweat and steam rooms…A permanent version of this temporary shelter was until very recently used both as a dwelling and as sweat and steam room. 
I will talk about this in my next post.

Goat

In my post “Ram and Bull” i asked this question:
Have you ever wondered why Aries (Ram) and Taurus (Bull) astrological signs are where they are on a solar circle?” 
Most people would answer this question by: “Because the constellations in the sky at that time look like ram and bull“!
But it turned out that these two astrological signs mark the lambing season of wild European sheep and the calving season of wild European cattle. These were extremely important events which occurred every year at the same time. 
In my post “Fishes” I wrote about another zodiac sign which was originally used to mark another extremely important seasonal event in Europe. This sign is Pisces (fishes) and was originally used to mark the beginning of the Salmon fishing season in continental Europe.
In this post I will continue my exploration of the possibility that original zodiac signs were markers for important cyclical natural events which occurred every year at the same time in Europe. 
I have to give special thanks to my friend Chilam Balam who, after reading my posts about Aries, Taurus and Pisces, told me to look at the behavior of Ibex mountain goats…And here is what I have discovered:
This is Alpine ibex, also known as the steinbock or bouquetin. 
Alpine ibex is a species of wild goat that lives in the mountains of the European Alps. It is a sexually dimorphic species with large males who carry large, curved horns and saller females with small horns which are not curved. The coat colour is typically brownish grey. 
Alpine ibex is an excellent climber. Its preferred habitat is the rocky region along the snow line above alpine forests, where it occupies steep, rough terrain at elevations of 1,800 to 3,300 metres. For most of the year, males and females occupy different habitat. Females rely on steep terrain more so than males. Males use lowland meadows during the spring, which is when snow melts and green grass appears. They then climb to alpine meadows during the summer. When winter arrives, both sexes move to steep rocky slopes that amass little snow and spend the winter there.
100 000 years ago, the Alpine Ibex lived in all the rocky regions of Central Europe. It was also a source of inspiration for the people who drew the Paleolithic caves in which they lived as it appears in the mural paintings of the Lascaux cave and Chauvet cave.
The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in the Ardèche department of southern France is a cave that contains the earliest known and best preserved figurative cave paintings in the world, as well as other evidence of Upper Paleolithic life. As recently as spring 2016, an additional 88 radiocarbon dates indicate two periods of habitation. One from 37,000 to 35,000 years ago and another from 31,000 to 28,000. Here is the representation of ibex goat from Chauvet cave:
Lascaux (Lascaux Caves) is the setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne. They contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art. These paintings are estimated to be circa 17,300 years old. Here is the representation of ibex goat from Lascaux cave:
This is Bezoar ibex, a cousin of Alpine ibex. It is found in the mountains of Asia Minor and across the Middle East. It is also found on some Aegean Islands and in Crete. 
Why am I talking about Ibex wild goats? Because they have a very very interesting mating habits. 
As I said already, when winter arrives, both sexes of the Alpine Ibex move to steep rocky slopes that amass little snow. Once they are all together on high rocky mountain slopes, the are finally in position to start mating. During this time, male herds break up into smaller groups that search for females. The rut takes place in two phases. In the first phase, the male groups interact with the females who are all in oestrous. The higher the male’s rank, the closer he can get to a female. Males perform courtship displays. In the second phase of the rut, one male separates from his group to follow an individual female. He displays to her and guards her from other males. Before copulation, the female moves her tail and courtship becomes more intensive. They copulate and then he rejoins his group and reverts to the first phase.
Now here is the important bit:
Alpine ibex mating season starts in December, and ends in January typically lasting around six weeks. 
Bezoar Ibex mating season starts in November and ends in January. 
Right in the middle of the mating periods of both Alpine and Bezoar ibex is Winter Solstice, 21st of December. And the day after the winter solstice is the beginning of the Capricorn (goat) period, which last from December 22 – January 20…
Do you think that this is a coincidence? Do you think that our henge building ancestors, who used Winter solstice to mark the beginning of the solar year, didn’t notice that just before the Winter solstice mountain goats gather together and start their mating rituals? Don’t you think that they would then use the symbol of a goat to mark this important cyclical yearly event? 
I think that this is absolutely amazing. So far I have shown that four zodiac signs, Aries (ram), Taurus (bull), Pisces (fishes) and Capricorn (goat) mark important cyclical natural events related to animals who live in Europe. These events occur every year at the same time, during the time period marked by the images of these animals. And there is at least another one, that I know at the moment. I will write about it soon. 
Knowing all this there is no doubt in my mind any more that Chaldeans, who are currently credited with the invention of the zodiac, actually based their star zodiac on circular solar calendar which came to Mesopotamia from Europe. 
But the discovery of the true meaning of Capricorn is particularly important. This is the key that unlocks the mystery of the association of goats with Christmas and Winter solstice…Now it all makes sense. I will dedicate next few post to this subject. Until then, stay happy. 

The oldest word in the world

What is the oldest word in the world? 

Tough question. How would you even go about finding this out? 

Well you can collect all the words from all living and dead languages. Analyze them, compare them and you might come up with a list of some root words common to enough distant languages that you can say: “these words are very old”. But this is basically where you will hit the dead end. There is no way to progress from here to “this is the oldest word in the world”. 

So I decided to take different approach. Instead of looking for the oldest recorded word, I will look at what “word” is and go from there. 

Word can be spoken or written. Written word is encoding of a spoken word using symbols or signs.

A spoken “word” is a sequence of sounds which is associated with some agreed meaning. It is this associated meaning that turns noise into words. You have all probably been in a situation where you were abroad, in a country whose language you didn’t understand. If you even bothered listening to the people around you, all you would have heard was incomprehensible noise. And sprinkled here and there were words, parts of the noise that for you had some meaning, because in your own language that particular sequence of sounds had attached meaning. Something like this:

“Dobardangospodinekolikokostakokakola”

Say this out loud. Can you recognize any of it? This is Serbian. I deliberately removed spacing because when you are listening to foreign language that you don’t understand this is how you hear it. The text in quotations means “Good day sir. How much is Coca cola?”. How many of you recognized “coca cola” among the noise?

Anyway. 

Now that we know what spoken “word” is, we need to look at how words are made. Well they are made by blowing air through our mouth while opening and closing our mouth, changing the position of our tong and squeezing and relaxing our throat and our vocal cords. On top of this we need to listen to the sounds we are making in order to plan and control the process of speaking. So in order to speak properly we need to be able to hear properly. And we have to have all the brain functions that deal with all of the muscular and sensory systems involved in speaking and with translation of ideas into language, well developed and highly tuned. This makes speaking a very very complicated thing indeed. I wrote a big article about language development on my page “Unified languages theory“, so if you are interested in things like that you should have a look at it. 

One of the things that we know about language development is that every new born baby has to start from scratch. Every normal human baby is born with a mouth, tongue, throat, vocal cord, ears, brain. But none of the apparatus involved in controlling these parts of the human body is developed at birth. This is why new born babies don’t open their mouths to take their first breath and say “Good day sir. Nice to meet you. Stop slapping my bottom…” They open their mouths to take their first breath and howl “aaaaaaaaaaa”. You can hear a very good rendition of this sound sequence in this video.  

This sequence of sounds carries a meaning. It means: “I am in distress! Alert! WTF just happened!!??!!”. How do we know this? Because this sequence of sounds (vowels) is accompanied by a facial expression which clearly shows distress. The idea is to attract attention of the mother. It is unconscious communication, built into us genetically. We don’t have to think about it or plan it. Our emotions are automatically encoded into facial expressions and involuntary sounds. I wrote about these involuntary sounds on my page “Vowels“. 

But as we grow up, we continue to use these facial expressions and sounds. And the same sequence of sounds “aaaaaaa” accompanied with the same or similar facial expressions, continues to represent the same idea: “Distress! Alert!”. We do this unconsciously when we are afraid, or when we are in pain or when we are grieving.  And consciously when we are shouting to alert other people to something, mostly of incoming scary thing that can cause pain and grieving. Sometimes that scary thing is us and we are alerting others that we can cause them pain and grieving…

So here we have the first sound every baby makes at birth, and it seems that this sound, or sound sequence, carries a meaning. Could this sound sequence be called a word? 

I believe so. Even though the origin of this sound sequence is in unconscious, involuntary sounds of distress, this sound sequence is later consciously used by adult humans to signify distress, alert. So for all intents and purposes this is in fact the oldest word ever uttered by humans, and which has survived til today. 

Done.

Not bad for an hour work. 🙂
I know that some people could say that this is not really a word because it has no consonants. They could also say that a shout is not a word. 

I could argue that there are plenty of single vowels which are considered to be “words”. And I could argue that the words are supposed to convey a meaning. And this “shout”, conveys more meaning than a lot of big complicated words put into big complicated sentences. 

But I won’t argue.

Instead, in my next post I will talk about the second oldest word in the world. This word has one consonant and one vowel. It is still in use today and is the root for some of the most important words in Indoeuropean languages. And not just Indoeuropean…

Until then, take care, stay happy

Fulacht fiadh – salt extraction facility?

There is more salt in animal tissues such as meat, blood and milk, than there is in plant tissues. Nomads who subsist on their flocks and herds do not eat salt with their food, but agriculturalists, feeding mainly on cereals and vegetable matter, need to supplement their diet with salt. However the primary attraction of salt in history and prehistory is its use as a preservative. The application of salt to organic material absorbs moisture, inhibiting the growth of bacteria and mold. That fact allowed societies to mass produce food and store it for lean times–a crucial piece of social engineering that made long-term survival through winters and droughts a possibility.

As population grew and the need for better and longer food preservation grew, the value of salt grew too. Eventually, salt became one of the world’s main trading commodities. It is not surprising then that people were willing to put considerable effort into obtaining salt and that salt production was one of the first human activities performed on industrial scale.

You can read more about the role salt played in history in “Archaeology of salt – approaching an invisible past“.

On an industrial scale salt is produced in one of two principal ways: by mining rock salt and by extracting of salt through evaporation of salty water (brine).

Mining rock salt

Before the advent of the internal combustion engine and earth moving equipment, mining salt was one of the most expensive and dangerous of operations, due to rapid dehydration caused by constant contact with the salt (both in the mine passages and scattered in the air as salt dust), among other problems borne of accidental excessive sodium intake. While salt is now plentiful, until the Industrial Revolution it was difficult to come by, and salt mining was often done by slave or prison labor and life expectancy among those sentenced was low. Even as recently as the 20th century, salt mining as a form of punishment was enforced in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

The title “the world’s oldest known salt mine”, is currently held by Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut region of Upper Austria. This is based on the discovery of a pick, made of stag horn and dated to 5000 BC, which was presumably used to mine salt. However we really have no proof of any mining going on in the area until about 1500 BC. This is when we find the oldest concrete proof of an organised mining operation. The salt has been mined in the Hallstatt region ever since.

The actual oldest salt mine in the world is actually located in Azerbaijan. Archeologists have recently shown that the Duzdagi salt deposits, situated in the Araxes Valley in Azerbaijan, were already being exploited from the second half of the 5th millennium BC. This is the most ancient exploitation of rock salt attested to date. And, it seems that intensive salt production was carried out in this mine at least as early as 3500 BC.

Salt extraction from salty water through evaporation

Evaporation can either be solar evaporation or evaporation through boiling.

Solar evaporation

In the correct climate (one for which the ratio of evaporation to rainfall is suitably high) it is possible to use solar evaporation of sea water to produce salt. Brine is evaporated in a linked set of ponds until the solution is sufficiently concentrated by the final pond that the salt crystallizes on the pond’s floor.

Evaporation through boiling

One of the traditional methods of salt production in more temperate climates is using boiling in open pans. In open pan salt works, brine is heated in large, shallow open pans. Brine was poured into the pans, and concentrated by the heat of the fire burning underneath. As crystals of salt formed these would be raked out and more brine added. Earliest examples date back to prehistoric times and the pans were made of ceramics known as briquetage, or lead. Later examples were made from iron. This change coincided with a change from wood to coal for the purpose of heating the brine.

In addition to the above means of extraction, in many parts of the world salt was also extracted from plants.

In North and South America and West Africa salt was extracted from palms through burning.

In Japan, moshio salt which is beige in color and has a nice, rich taste, is made from seaweed. The very earliest method of obtaining salt from seawheed was probably burning seaweed and using the resulting ashes for their salt content. The first challenge in salt-making through boiling sea water has always been to find a way to concentrate sea water, which contains only 3 percent salt. So another method of extracting salt from seaweed seems to have involved collecting seaweed and allowing it to dry in the sun until salt crystals formed. The crystals were then washed off into vats of sea water, creating a concentrated brine that could be boiled down to yield salt.

In modern New Guinea, salt is extracted from plants which have been steeped in brine from salt springs. After soaking plant leaves for three or four days, firewood is used to build a square pyre and is set alight. The soaked leaves are stacked on the pyre, and the fire is kept going from the afternoon until the morning of the next day. The result is a large pile of charcoal, ashes, and salt concretions. The salt is picked out and placed on a large wooden platter, then pressed into a rectangular mold, kneaded with brine, compressed, and wrapped. The salt is further dried over a hearth for a week, which forms a “salt stone” or compact block of salt.

In the article “Extracting Salt from Distichlis spicata (seashore saltgrass): Continued Investigations into Methods of. Salt Extraction and Salt Utilization in Prehistoric California” we can read that:

Distichlis spicata

Many California tribes extracted salt from plants.

Various plants such as Distichlis spicata (seashore saltgrass), Petasites frigidus (sweet coltsfoot), Umbelliferae (Celery) were burned to create salty ashes which were then used as salt.
In some regions salt grass was burned on a grating of hardwood sticks which was laid over a pit full of hot coals. The salty sap oozed out of the plants and dropped on the coals, forming lumps which were extracted from ashes after the pit was cooled.
 Another way of extracting salt from salt grass was by drying it on flat rocks and pounding it in mortar holes. The crushed bits were then winnowed using a circular tray which separated the salt from the grass. The resulting salt was then dampened and pressed into balls. The balls were broken as needed for use.
In some cases, the salty plants were were eaten raw.
Sometimes non saline grass was soaked in brackish water and then burned.

In the article “Evidence for medieval salt-making by burning Eel-grass (Zostera marina L.) in the Netherlands” we read that during the medieval time in the area of Zealand, the peat from reclaimed land was cut and used for fuel, but due to the high salinity of the peat was also used for salt-making. For the purpose of salt-making, at low tides the clay layer was dug away and the salt-impregnated peat layers were cut into bricks. These were then dried in the wind and burned on the spot. Next, the ashes were gathered and brought to salt sheds (boiling huts), mostly located near towns or villages. In the sheds, the ash was plunged into large drums, preferably filled up with salt water to increase the salt content of the brine, and subsequently heated to evaporate the water. When the peat deposits were exhausted, eel grass was use instead of salty peat for concentration of brine used in salt making.

Marine eelgrass

In the article “London Gateway: Iron Age and Roman Salt Making in the Thames Estuary” we can read that Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve area in Themes valley was during the middle Iron Age (c 400-100 BC) a very important center of salt making. Excavation across the north-western corner of Area A uncovered the remains of red hills, a characteristic feature of long-term salt production on the Essex coast. Other evidence relating to salt production included pits, hearths and briquetage, a coarse ceramic used for making salt-processing equipment, such as cylindrical moulds, troughs, pedestals and firebars. The site continued to be used until late Roman period. The analysis of the content of the red hills revealed that they consisted of fuel ash derived from burnt salt marsh plants and sediment (peat). The plants, harvested still with marsh sediment adhering, were dried and burnt as fuel for hearths, above which brine was evaporated to crystallise salt. A by-product of the fuel burning was a salt-rich ash, which when mixed with seawater, was turned into a highly saline solution. This was filtered, and the resulting brine was then also evaporated above salt marsh plant-fuelled hearths. It was the residue from hearths and filtering that was dumped to create low mounds or red hills.

Strabo reports further methods of brine concentration and salt extraction by European tribes to include  ‘flinging’ or ‘dowsing’ salt brine over hot stones and then collecting and scraping the salt crusts from the stone. “A surprisingly quick process…” The stones were certainly fractured due to the heat gradient in such methods as were the crude sherds found at the red hills.

Another method, used in Gaul and Germany, included dripping brine on to glowing charcoals and using the resulting ash as salt. You can read more about this in “Studies in ancient technology volume III” By R. J. Forbse. The same method was recorded in Philippines and you can read about it in the article “Documenting Bohol’s traditional method of salt production and the importance of salt in the region’s early economy“.

Knowing how valuable the salt was it is also not surprising that large communities grew around sources of salt, and along the salt trading routes. 

The oldest industrial scale salt-works operation in Europe has been discovered at the Poiana Slatinei archaeological site next to a salt spring in Lunca, Neamț County, Romania. Evidence indicates that Neolithic people of the Precucuteni Culture were boiling the salt-laden spring water through the process of briquetage to extract the salt as far back as 6050 BC. The salt extracted from this operation may have had a direct correlation to the rapid growth of this society’s population soon after its initial production began. The remnants of this salt extraction facility today are giant burned mounds consisting of broken salt extraction pottery and ash.

Salt production was very lucrative. No wonder then that what is now thought to have been the first city in Europe Solnitsata, in Bulgaria, was built next to a salt mine, which provided the area now known as the Balkans with salt since 5400 BC. Even the name Solnisata means “salt works”.

In the article “Neolithic flat-based pots from the Carnac Mounds in the light of Cycladic ‘frying pans’“, we can read about a rare type of pottery, found in four single graves under earthen mounds in the Carnac region of Brittany, and dated to 4600–4200 BC. These vessels are circular, flat-based and with a near-vertical wall. The authors of the article suggest that based on the salt extraction equipment known from elsewhere in the world, it is possible that these dishes too were used for extraction of salt from sea water. The results of experiments using replicas of these dishes demonstrated that these  vessels could have been heated and used to boil brine in the same manner as their ethnographic counterparts.

The same method of salt extraction from sea water was used In England during Bronze Age, Iron Age and into the Roman period. The remnants of these salt works are today known as Red hills.

Red Hill is an archaeological term for a small mound with a reddish colour found in the coastal and tidal river areas of East Anglia and Essex. Red Hills are formed as a result of generations of salt making, deriving their colour from the rubble of clay vessels made from briquetage and used in the salt-making process that have been scorched red by fires used to evaporate sea water to make salt cakes. Briquetage is also known as Very Coarse Pottery or VCP.

These sites contained large water settling pits, where water was left to rest for a period of time to allow impurities to settle to the bottom. The water was then poured into clay pans which were heated over the fire until the water became concentrated enough for salt crystals to start forming. The concentrated salty water (brine) was then poured int crystallization cups. These were then also heated over fire. As the water evaporated the salt crystals would form and settle at the bottom of the vessel. Concentrated salted water (brine) was added to the cups continuously and evaporated until the salt crystals filled most of the vessel. The remaining water was then evaporated and the salt in the cup was dried until it became rock hard. The cup was then broken and the containing “salt cake” was taken out.

You can read more about this in the book “THE RED HILLS OF ESSEX: Salt-Making in Antiquity” by Fawn, A J, Evans, K A, McMaster, I: Davies, G M R

The same or very similar way of extracting salt from sea water was still used in Britain in the 17th century. In her book “Through England on a side saddle” Celia Fiennes describes salt works she saw near Limington.

The seawater they draw into trenches and so into several ponds that are secured in the bottom to retain it, and it stands in the sun to exhale the watery part of it, and if it prove a dry summer they make the best and most salt, for the rain spoils the ponds by weakening the salt.

When they think its fit to boil they draw off the water from the ponds by pipes which conveys it into a house full of large square iron and copper pans; they are shallow but they are a yard or two if not more square, these are fixed in rows one by another it may be twenty on a side, in a house under which is the furnace that burns fiercely to keep these pans boiling apace, and as it candy’s about the edges or bottom so they shovel it up and fill it in great baskets and so the thinner part runs through on moulds they set to catch it, which they call salt cakes’.

The rest in the baskets dry and is very good salt and as fast as they shovel the boiling salt out of the pans they do replenish it with more of their salt water in their pipes. They told me when the season was dry and so the salt water in its prime they could make 60 quarters of salt in one of those pans which they constantly attend night and day all the while the fire is in the furnace, because it would burn to waste and spoil the pans which by their constant use wants often to be repaired. They leave off saturday night and let out the fire and so begin and kindle their fire Monday morning, its a pretty charge to light the fire.

Their season for making salt is not above 4 or 5 months in the year and that is only in a dry summer. These houses have above 20 some 30 more of these pans in them, they are made of copper.

They are very careful to keep their ponds well secured and mended by good clay and gravel in the bottom and sides and so by sluices they fill them out of the sea at high-tides and so conveyed from pond to pond till fit to boil“.

Now what about Ireland? How did ancient Irish get their salt? 

Well we have no idea what the Bronze Age and Iron Age Irish relationship with salt was, but we can presume that that like everyone else in the world, they also used and highly appreciated salt. The situation is a bit better when we come to the medieval time as there are a lot of mentions of salt in Irish medieval manuscripts.

In the “A History of Irish Cuisine (Before and After the Potato)“, we can read that the medieval Irish used salt for seasoning food but also for preserving meat and fish.

The Senchus Mór mentions salt as one of the important articles in the house of a brewy, on which the glossator remarks that it is “an article of necessity at all times, a thing which everyone desires.” It was kept in lumps or in coarse grains; and at dinner each person was served with as much as he needed.

The Críth Gablach mentions salt meat as part of the sick maintenance given to a noble if he is unlawfully injured by another party. You can read more about this on this page of the “Early Medieval Irish Túath” web site.

In the Bretha Crólige, the druid is considered as having the same sick-maintenance as a bóaire, which entitles them to salt meat on his dish every Sunday, as well as extra if they have more property. You can read more about this on this page of the “Early Medieval Irish Túath” web site.

In the “Papers read for the Royal Irish Academy by MacNeill, John, 1867-1945” we can read that the 8th century text Conall Corc and the Corco Luigde records that the Aran Islands paid a tribute of salt to the King of Cashel, their overload.

In the “Irish Hagiographies as Tools for Conversion” we can read that in Saint Columba’s hagiography which was written in the 7th century, Adomnán tells of an instance where Columba had blessed a salt block and given it to a family, who in turn hung it on their wall. The village later burned down, destroying everything except the small section of wall from which the block hung.

And so on and so forth…

But even though we know that the medieval Irish loved and valued salt, we have no clue how they obtained it. Now I can hear people saying: Ireland is an ISLAND in a SALTY sea…Wouldn’t it be logical that they got their salt from the sea?

Well sea water was probably the source of the salt used in Ireland. Even though Ireland has huge rock salt resources they were not discovered until 19th century. These rock salt deposits were discovered by people who were exploring for coal and metals and were located deep under ground, quite out of reach of people with primitive mining equipment. One location where there has been (and remains) a large volume of rock salt is at Kilroot, near Carrickfergus in Co. Antrim. In the 1850s, a surveyor searching for precious metals discovered a thick layer of rock salt under about 600ft of rock. The salt was initially removed by pumping water down shafts and pumping the resulting brine mixture back up, before evaporating the water to leave salt crystals behind. This is not something Medieval, Iron age and Bronze age Irish could have done. So the sea was the only source of salt for the ancient Irish. But how did they extract the salt from the sea water?

We know that there are two ways for extracting salt from sea water: by solar evaporation and by evaporation through boiling. Now in order to extract the salt from sea water through solar evaporation you need to have “the correct climate, one for which the ratio of evaporation to rainfall is suitably high”. Basically you need to have dry sunny hot climate, or at least dry sunny hot summers. Now I have been living in Ireland for over 20 years now, and I can tell you that Ireland does not have “the correct climate”… This is what Irish summer is like:

What Irish people mean when they say summer

What Irish summer looks like on satellite images

What an Irish summer day is very likely to look like at least half of the time (Picture taken in July)

You are not going to be extracting too much salt through solar evaporation in this climate.

And yet there are numerous place names along the Irish coast which have the word salt as their root, indicating that these places were salt production areas. For instance Lough Salt in Co. Donegal (which may have had salt pits or deposits nearby, rather than being a salt-water lake); Salt Island on Strangford Lough; the Saltee Islands off the coast of Wexford; Salters Grange in Armagh; Salthill in Co. Galway; and Saltpans townland in Co. Donegal, among many others. Based on this there is a widespread belief that the medieval Ireland was a big producer and exporter of salt. In “A smaller social history of ancient Ireland” we read that in 1300, salt was one of the commodities sent from Ireland to Scotland to supply the army of Edward I. This seems to confirm that Ireland was indeed large producer and exporter of salt.

But in “The Archaeology of Medieval Ireland” by Terry B. Barry we can read that at the same time when salt was sent from Ireland to Edward I, salt together with iron was imported into Ireland from France through ports such as Drogheda…So was the salt sent to Edward a tribute in rare commodity rather than export?

Similarly in the “Ireland before the Normans” by Donnchadh Ó Corráin we can read that the medieval Irish laws have mentions of vessels loaded with cargoes of iron, salt, hides, nuts, honey and wine, and they lay down certain provisions for the landing of cargo ships and the liabilities which they may incur. There are, in addition, numerous references in the literature to the import of wine, salt and iron and to the export of hides and wool.

In “The Economy of Early Medieval Ireland” we can read that  although salt is mentioned in the early eighth-century Críth Gablach, there is no evidence for native salt production prior to the late twelfth century, and all Irish place-names associated with salt production are ultimately English in derivation.  An example of one of the earliest references to “salt pans” in Ireland is found in the Calendar of Documents Relating to Ireland for June 1258, where a land dispute is mentioned between John de Verdon and the Abbot of Mellifont over “three carucates of land in Mulygadaveran and Thulachalyni, and five carucates xcepting three acres used in salt works“.

Now this is very strange indeed. You saw the pictures of what the Irish summer looks like. How the hell is it then possible that the medieval Irish were able to use solar salt pans for the extraction of salt from sea water? Well the answer is something called “The Medieval Warm Period (MWP), Medieval Climate Optimum, or Medieval Climatic Anomaly“. This was a time of warm climate in the North Atlantic region lasting from about 950 to 1250. It was followed by a cooler period in the North Atlantic and elsewhere termed the Little Ice Age. Temperatures in some regions matched or exceeded recent temperatures in these regions, and it is believed that temperatures in the north of Europe were on average 2 degrees higher than they are today. But were summers in Ireland during that period sunnier, less rainy? Very likeley. And if so that would explain the confusion about Ireland being described as salt exporter and salt importer, and all the English place names with salt as their root. Basically prior to 900 the climate in Ireland was too damp to extract salt from sea water using solar evaporation. So salt was imported into Ireland and this was recorded in all the early Irish records. The start of the change of the Irish climate into warmer and drier climate coincided with the Viking and then Norman invasion of Ireland. During that time we see emergence of salt pans along the coast with place names with salt as their root, and salt production and export. Then before 1300 the Irish climate starts changing for the worst and starts getting colder and wetter. And the salt production industry disappear from Ireland and the salt is imported into Ireland once again which was recorded in the late medieval records. Then the climate starts warming again in the 18th century and hey presto salt works appear again along the Irish coast. 

Now during the Medieval Warm Period the climate in Ireland was probably the same like the climate we find today in England. Summers were probably much warmer and drier. That allowed the salt to be extracted from salt water using the same method of partial solar evaporation and partial evaporation through boiling, which was until recently still used in England, and which I already described above. Sea water was concentrated in open salt pans and maybe, depending on how severe the climate change during the Medieval Warm Period was. If the water could not have been evaporated completely using solar evaporation it was then boiled in metal pots, which have by this time replaced coarse clay pots (biquetage).

But what about salt production in Ireland before this time? Was climate in Ireland ever as good as during the Medieval Warm Period thus making salt extraction possible? Well yes it was. It seems that the climate in the North Atlantic region oscillates quite a bit, and has extreme high temperature peaks roughly every 1500 years with smaller high temperature peeks in between. At least this is what the available data for last 5000 years is showing us.

The Greenland Ice Cores provide a temperature record for the last 5,000 years. Clearly manifest are three temperature peaks which correspond with the archaeologically and historically documented Warm Periods in the North Atlantic region: Minoan Warm Period 1450–1300 BC, a Roman Warm Period 250 BC – 0 AD, the Medieval Warm Period 800–1100 AD. On the chart you can also clearly see the well documented extreme cold period known as the little Ice Age 1350 to 1850 AD.

In “The Bronze Age climate and environment of Britain” by Tony Brown we read that there was an abrupt climate change around 900 BC which resulted in much colder and wetter climate. This climate change ended what is known as “The Bronze Age Optimum (1500—900 (800) year BC)”,  the period of warm and dry weather in north Atlantic region. This period fallowed The Middle Bronze Age Cold Epoch which was a period of unusually cold climate in the North Atlantic region, lasting from about 1800 BC to about 1500 BC.

Now on the above chart you can see that “The Bronze Age Optimum” starts with the sudden sharp rise in temperature during the Minoan Warm Period which started right about 1500 BC. How warm was Atlantic northern Europe during the Minoan Warm Period can be discerned from the fact that during the Minoan warm period, millet was grown in southern Scandinavia. Today Millet is grown in tropical and subtropical regions, it is an important crop in Asia, Africa and in the southern U.S.. The average annual temperature in Mississippi and Alabama where millet is grown today is about 10 degrees, which should be compared with today’s average annual temperature in Denmark, which is 8 degrees.

The temperature after the Minoan Warm Period drops and has another minimum around 1200 BC rising to another maximum around 1000 BC. After that it oscillates around relatively stable low value until it suddenly starts to rise around 250 BC. This is the beginning of the Roman Warm Period

“The Roman warm period started quite suddenly around 250 BC. Some studies in a bog in Penido Vello in Spain have shown that in Roman times it was around 2-2.5 degrees warmer than in the present. The Roman warm period is amply documented by numerous analyses of sediments, tree rings, ice cores and pollen – especially from the northern hemisphere. Studies from China, North America, Venezuela, South Africa, Iceland, Greenland and the Sargasso Sea have all demonstrated the Roman Warm Period. Additionally, it has been documented by ancient authors and historical events.

How warm was Northern Europe during the Roman Warm Period can be seen by the fact that during the culmination of the Roman warm period olive trees grew in the Rhine Valley in Germany. Citrus trees and grapes were cultivated in England as far north as near Hadrian’s Wall near Newcastle.

The temperature then has a sudden drop during the first century AD but it then rises as suddenly and stays stable high until the end of the fourth century AD when it suddenly drops to an extreme low level. It then suddenly rises to extreme high during the Medieval Warm Period….

You can read more about this in “History of Earth’s Climate 7. – Cenozoic IV – Holocene“.

Now what is very interesting is that the oldest red hills (burned mounds consisting of briquetage and ash) salt extraction sites found in England date to right about the beginning of the Minoan Warm period.

In “The English Coast: A History and a Prospect” by Peter Murphy we read that the early evidence for salt production in east England comes from a Red Hill Bronze age site in Fenn Creek, Essex, dated to 1412 – 1130 calibrated BC. The site continued to be used through Iron age and was abandoned during the late Roman period. Translated the last sentence means that the site was used during warm peek periods between the beginning of the Minoan Warm Period and the end of the Roman Warm period when we have such cold and wet climate in England that the solar extraction stopped.

Now there are no red hill type burned mounds in Ireland. But guess what appears in Ireland right about the time of the Minoan Warm Period: our old friends fulachtai fiadh burned mounds. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the majority of fulachtaí fiadh were constructed during the mid to late Bronze Age (1500 – 500 BC), though some Neolithic examples are known. However, some were still in use up to medieval times. This is very very interesting, don’t you think? Were fulachtai fiadh used for salt extraction? Well I believe, like most other researchers today believe, that fulachtai fiadh were multi purpose facilities used for many different things involving liquids and heat. But I definitely believe that some of them were used for salt extraction. 

So how would you use fulacht fiadh for salt extraction? 

Well the simplest way would be to build your fulach fiadh anywhere where the forest grows all the way down to the the seashore. That way you will have easy access to sea water and wood. You would then need to collect lots of round hard rock pebbles from river beds and beaches. You would fill the through with seawater, and heat the stoned in the fire. Then you could proceed in one of two ways.

Do you remember what Strabo reported about methods of brine concentration and salt extraction used by “European tribes” which included  ‘flinging’ or ‘dowsing’ salt brine over hot stones and then collecting and scraping the salt crusts from the stone. “A surprisingly quick process…” Salty water would be kept in the through from where it would be scooped using cups and then poured over a pile of super heated stones, in the same way water is poured over sauna hot stones. Once the stones have cooled down, the salt would be scraped from their surface and the stones would be put back into the fire to be reheated. A new pile of hot stones would be made and the process would be repeated. The stones were certainly fractured due to the heat gradient in such methods as were the cracked stones found at fulach fiadh sites. 

Another possible way in which fulachtai fiadh could have been used for salt production was as a salt pan for evaporating salty water through boiling inside the through heated with super heated stones. You would fill the through with salty water, heat the rocks in the fire and drop them into the through. They would heat the water to the boiling point and eventually after many reheated stones were dropped into the through all the water would be evaporated and you would be left with the layer of salt covering the bottom of the through. 

Believe or not, this exact method of salt extraction through boiling salty water in pits heated by super heated stones was used by Native Americans in the Eastern USA. In the article Historic importance of salt on the website of the Louisiana department of culture, recreation and tourism, we can read that Native Americans in Eastern North America used salt as a condiment and highly regarded it. The DeSoto expedition which explored today’s South Eastern USA in the 15th century observed four ways in which salt was produced. It was gathered in a free state (rock salt),  extracted from the ashes of plants and salt-impregnated sand, but it was most commonly extracted from brine water at salines. The principal artifact identified with the prehistoric salt industry in Eastern North America is the salt pan which was used for extracting salt from the brine. Fragments of these shell-tempered vessels have been found at most salines. This is a complete vessel from Bone Bank site at  Posey County, Indiana.

In the article “Methods for calculating brine evaporation rates during salt production” we can read the detailed description of how these salt pans were used:

“Thick-walled ceramic ‘‘pans,’’ most in association with salines, have been found with capacities ranging from 40 to 400 L. The enormous size and weight of these vessels when filled with brine would have made them practically immovable and suspension over a fire seems equally unlikely. It is suspected that these salt pans were placed in basin-shaped ground depressions (pits) and heated stones from nearby fires were dropped into the pan to facilitate evaporation. The lack of exterior discoloration from fires on many pans and the occasional find of stones inside pans lend support to the conclusion that stone boiling was at least one method utilized by Native Americans to evaporate brine.”

Now this is very interesting. In North America we have clay lined pits heated with hot stones. In Ireland we have stone or wood lined pits heated with hot stones. The capacity of North American pits is 40 – 400 L. This means that the dimensions of the biggest ones are 2 meters long by half a meter wide and half a meter in depth. Guess what. The size of fulacht fiadh throughs varies a great deal from site to site, from rather small pits lined with stones to pools approximately a meter wide by 2 meters long and maybe half a meter or more in depth.

The article “Methods for calculating brine evaporation rates during salt production” then explains how the hot stones were used to evaporate the water from from the salt pans:

“When the hot stones are dropped into the pan, the heat transferred from the stones raises the temperature of the brine up to its boiling point. Any additional heat released by the stone serves to evaporate water and concentrate brine. After about 2 minutes the brine is concentrated to a maximum value of about 29.0 wt% at its boiling point with further evaporation resulting in the formation of salt crystals. The salt crystals forming continues until the stone and brine reach thermal equilibrium. Placing additional hot stones into the pan would continue the evaporation process. Depending on the size of the pan and the amount of hot stones used, the evaporation process can take up to several hours.

From the short timescales involved to obtain salt, it seems this method would clearly be effective in evaporating brine. Unlike suspension of a pan over a fire, stone boiling releases all of its internal heat directly into the brine. However, there may be practical limitations for manipulating large volumes of very hot stones. Stones heated to high temperatures often shatter and large stones would be difficult to transport from a fire to the brine pan. Smaller stones would make handling easier, but would require more repeated firings to achieve the same evaporation as large stones. The smallest salt pan found at the Kimmswick site near St. Louis had a volume of approximately 40 L. Assuming a scenario similar to that outlined above, emplacement of 25 vol% stone into the salt pan would translate to 26 kg of extremely hot stone(s) that would have been manipulated. This seems to suggest that stone boiling may actually require a tremendous amount of human labor to achieve significant quantities of salt…” 

But it seems that Native Americans thought that this effort was worthwhile because salt was such a valued commodity. Considering that the people world over had the same opinion about salt, I would suggest that the ancient Irish would probably also think that the effort involved in extracting salt using fulacht fiadh was worthwhile. 

Interestingly in “The A to Z of Ancient Mesoamerica” by Joel W. Palka we read that in Yucatan and Guatemala the process of evaporating and refining salt was also carried out by pouring salt water into wooden throughs which were slowly drained, leaving the salt behind. An Irish fulacht fiadh trough dug into as well drained, particularly sandy soil and lined with wooden planks, would be even more efficient salt extraction vessel than the clay lined North American salt pit. This is because water would be removed from the through both through evaporation and draining. 

On average sea water contains about 3% salt. This means that if you evaporate 100 liters of seawater you would be left with 3 kilos of salt. Several hours of hard work for 3 kilos of “white gold”? Definitely worth it. Now there is a way to make this process even more worthwhile.  

To do that you would need to built your fulach fiadh next to a salt marsh or a salty shallow lagoon which would fill only during the very high tides. The sea water caught inside the marsh or a lagoon would slowly evaporate over time and get more and more concentrated and salty. You would then boil this partially concentrated salty water in your fulacht fiadh. 

If the weather was particularly sunny and windy the water in these lagoons could get so concentrated (29%) that salt crystals would start forming in the water on their own. But even if the concentration of salt was increased to 6 percent that would mean that the salt yield for the same amount of work would double. 

This is exactly the process that was used in Bronze Age salt extraction facilities in England now known as red hills burned mounds. 

But there is a way to increase the salt concentration in salty water processed in fulacht fiadh even more. By using seaweed. I already mentioned that in Japan people used seaweed to increase the salinity of water which was boiled for salt. They collected and dried seaweed in the sun and wind until salt crystals formed. They then washed the crystals off into vats of sea water, creating a concentrated brine that could be boiled down to yield salt. Irish coastal waters are extremely rich seaweed growing grounds and you can see that this method of increasing the salinity of seawater could easily have been used in fulach fiadh throughs.  I also mentioned another method of increasing the concentration of salt in seawater using seaweed. In England and Netherlands they used ashes of dried seaweed which was burned to heat the salt pans. The ashes which contained a high concentration of salt were mixed into seawater thus greatly increasing its salinity. Now in Irish fulachai fiadh it was the stones which were heated, but it is entirely possible to heat the stones using dry seaweed or a combination of wood and dry seaweed. The resulting ashes could then be mixed into the seawater to increase its salinity. 

That seaweed was used in Ireland in salt production process was first suggested based on linguistic evidence. In “Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia. Vol. 1;Volume 2” we can read that in Old Irish one of the terms used for salt was “murluaith” =  “muir + luaith” which means “sea ash”. Now the meaning “sea ash” was taken as proof that originally it was seaweed ash which was used as salt. That is possible as we have seen that Native Americans used salt grass ash as salt. But if seaweed ash was used in the process of salt production in ancient Ireland it was most likely used just like it was used in England, for concentrating seawater into brine before boiling. Interestingly the word “luaith” from “murluaith” has another meaning in Old Irish. It means simply “dust”. The picture below shows a rock pool which was filled with seawater during a very high tide or storm and in which subsequently all the water had evaporated, leaving behind white “sea dust”, salt. Collecting salt from this type of rock pools could be the oldest way ancient Irish obtained salt. Hence the name “muir luaith” = “sea dust” could be the oldest word for salt in Irish, the current word “salann” being later import. 

So….

What do you think? I think that the Bronze Age Irish used and highly valued salt, just like the Bronze Age English. And I can’t see any reason why they couldn’t have used a method of extracting it by boiling a concentrated brine solution in a very similar way the Bronze Age English did it. Or by just dripping the salty water on hot stones, a “very effective method” which Strabo reports was used by the “Europen tribes”. Now I am not saying that all the fulachtai fiadh were used for salt extraction. A fulacht fiadh built on top of the hill in the center of Ireland certainly wasn’t. But those built next to the seashore could have been used as very cost effective salt extraction facilities…

The salt extracted in these fulachai fiadh was then used as condiment, for meat and fish curing and for another very important process: wool dying and hide tanning… And guess what, fulacht fiadh could also have been used in these two processes. But I will talk about this in one of my next posts. 

Trom

In Serbian and Croatian we have adjective “trom” which means:

moving with difficulty
sluggish
slow

It is implied that the slowness and sluggishness comes from heaviness. The word has an opposite meaning to words meaning springiness, lightness of movement, lightness.

In Makedonian we have word “tromav” which means cumbersome, clumsu. 

This word is, as far as i am aware, found only in these South Slavic languages.

And in Celtic languages.

Irish “trom”

of great weight, of high specific gravity, of heavy texture, stodgy, hard to digest, dense, thick, abundant, of great force or intensity, laborious, burdensome, grievous, severe, harsh, tyrannous
unsparing, sultry, oppressive, weighty, profound, important (heavy), dull, tedious, laboured, drowsy, deep, slumberous, oppressed, sad

Old Irish “trom”

heavy (weight), heavy, severe, grievous, difficult, sad, sorrowful, great, vast, powerful, mighty

Scottish Gaelic “trom”

heavy, hard, difficult, weighty, serious, depressed, melancholy, addicted (heavily into something), pregnant (with child)

Manx “trome”

heavy, substantial, dense, difficult, emphatic, intense, pregnant

Welsh “trwm”

literally and figuratively heavy

Apparently all these Celtic words come from Proto Celtic root “trummos” meaning heavy. 

Where does the Serbian word comes from then? 

I personally believe that it is a borrowing from Celtic languages. But how come we find this word only in Celtic languages and in Serbian (Croatian)? When was this word borrowed into Serbian (Croatian) and where? 

From your hands

In Serbian the word “ruka” means “hand, arm”. This is Slavic only word, borrowed by Latvians and Lithuanians. The expression “iz ruke” means “from the hand”. You take something that someone is giving you from his hand. The expression “iz ruku” means “from the hands”. You take something that someone is giving you from his hands. To give something, you need to “let go of it”, “let it out of your hand” which in Serbian is “iz ruke” = from the hand, “iz ruku” = from the hands, or if you are an “uneducated peasant” you would say “iz rukama” = from the hands

But today while browsing the Sumerian dictionary, as you would 🙂 , I came across this: Sumerian: ISRUK = Gave (he gave) ISRUKAM = Gave (he gave to me)
I also found this word:

Sumeran:

NADANU = Give, Give (to pay)

In Serbian when an “uneducated peasant” wants to give you something, especially whey he has to give it to you grudgingly, like for instance when he has to give you money, he will often say to you “na!” meaning “here you go”, “here it is”, “take it”. The word “na” also means “to, at, of” so in South of Serbia “uneducated peasants” would say “podaj to na njega” meaning “give this to him”.

Once the thing is given, in Serbian it is “dan (M), dana (F), dano (N)” meaning “given”.

Now the Slavic verb “dati” meaning “to give” comes from Indoeuropean root “deh₃-“. But how many non Slavic languages have word “na” with the above meaning?

And what the hell are these words doing in Sumerian???

Any plausible explanation anyone?