Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Iberian Paganism, Megaliths of Portugal, and Unique Geology

Iberian Paganism, Portuguese Megaliths, and Unique Geology

Blueschist (not from Portugal, but California)
Twin Stone Circle (Cromeleque Dos Almendres) and Menhir
complex near near Evora, Portugal

Fountain of the Idol in Braga, Portugal

My mom and sisters visited Portugal this month, from which "my mother's people left the Azores in the late 1800s" (from my sisters IG). In this post, I hash over some stuff that has been on my mind during their visit, while living vicariously.

Though the title begins with paganism, Im going to work backwards and start with geologic history (the rocks), then discuss the anthropomorphic use of those rocks for megalithic, and then get to the paganism connection.

My personal heritage may or may not connect to any of this, we dont know as the furthest my mother has been able to trace ancestry is to the Sao Miguel islands of the Azores. For now. I should point out that though bloodline and ancestry is part of us, it is not necessarily something to base our spirituality from, i.e. because possibly my ancestors practiced some sort of Iberian Paganism I am not required or obligated to adopt this path. It is the life of my ancestors that enabled mine, and I thank them for this. Research into our ancestry can help us to think of what our ancestors may have been like. Whether my grandfathers days in Hawaii, my mothers great grandmother on Sao Miguel, my possible great10 farming pagan family village, or my possible great50 animist family clan.

Unique Geologic Features of Portugal

While I could go on and on about the geologic history, I want to stick to a couple of really unique geologic features and lithologies that I am drawn to: The Messejana-Placensia Dike, the Ossa Morena-South Portugal Zone provinces, grantoid intrusions, and the volcanic Azores. The wiki was my starting point and led to me a half dozen academic papers I focused on and a lot of review of the Portuguese State department website on geology.

My favorite rocks are blueschist and serpentinite, metamorphic rocks that represent interesting tectonic environments and to me have an aesthetic and nostalgic significance. Similar to the tectonic environments of the Mesozoic of the Cascadia (accretionary tectonics), the Southern Portugal Zone is a complex of exotic terranes accreted to the Ossa Morena Zone to the north. Between them, the suture zone, is an ophiolite (oceanic lithosphere) and includes ecologites and blueshist! I suspect, because it is an ophiolite, it also contains serpentenized peridotite. Favorite rocks: check.

Some of my favorite landscapes to walk in are granitic, or even rhyolitic, bounder terrain, such as the Sierra Nevada of Calfornia, Sawtooths and Silver City (Owyhee) of Idaho, Wallowa of Oregon, etc. etc. for US examples. There are several batholiths and/or plutons of granatoids that dot the landscape of Portugal, but one that quickly drew my attention while researching the megalithic structures is the village of Monsanto. Built into and around the boulder field of a spheroidally weathered Paleozoic age granite pluton. The landscape looks breathtaking, mounded and grusey with lichen encrusted precariously balanced giant boulders. I had a sharp breath, tight throat, and eye flush when I saw it in video. Favorite [fantasy] landscape: check.

Intrusive dikes of all shapes and sizes are incredible features to behold. To see the frozen remains of an injected magma at outcrop scale is still, to me, one of the most impressive demonstrations of a first-principle in geology: cross-cutting relationships. The Messejana-Placensia Dike is a huge feature that cuts across the entire country into Spain, slicing from the far south coast of Portugal (through the city of Odemira) nearly all the way to Madrid--530 kilometers. It varies in width from as little as five meters to as wide as 200 meters and can be seen in satellite (with a careful eye) on Google Earth. Incredible! Even more incredible is the geochemical and textural consistency of the rock. The dike is tectonically related to the Central Atlantic Plume that left radiating tholeiitic dikes like this one outward from its initiation point of the tip of Florida. Favorite field feature: check.

All of those great geologic features are found on the European mainland Iberian Peninsula part of Portugal. But for a much longer time, I have been interested in the volcanic islands of the Azores far to the west nearer the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is considered of hot-spot origin, not necessarily a deeper mantle plume like Iceland but some anomalous volcanism, since about 7 million years ago, along the axis of the ridge. But my draw here is not because it is some sort of favorite geologic feature for me, it is personal.

Claimed by Portuguese and certainly known by the fourteenth century (Catalan Atlas), there is some faulty evidence the islands were inhabited prehistorically. Regardless, the islands are fairly young and of volcanic origin, mostly mafic rocks with a warm climate and so has deeply developed oxisol soils good for farming. That is how my ancestors ended up there, I imagine. Somehow fleeing the mainland to find a new opportunity on the islands. Mostly people from the Algarve and Alentejo regions of the mainland during the turmoil over the throne in the 1400s.

Maybe my ancestors immigrated to the islands early on, maybe they fled after the devestating terremoto de Lisboa in 1755 or another time before the mid-1800s, but probably some mix of both. Maybe they came from some of the provinces that interest me from above, maybe not.

I may never know what my ancestors were up to before that, but we have great record of what happened after. Those rich, volcanic soils that attracted agricultural opportunity of the Azores once again attracted my ancestors: the newly taken-over Hawaiian Islands of the United States. More on that another time.

The land is a sacred source of mana, to me. As an animist, geocentric pagan dirt-witch I am pretty annealed to rock holding significance for me. Somewhat romantically, I do love looking at and reading about paleolithic and neolithic societies, structures, and other archaeological investigation. I realize, because we have so little evidence to say anything for sure, this field is often full of speculation and many non-scientists lean toward conspiracy-style theories regarding ancient technological civilizations and/or aliens. I'm not going there, but chose to stay on the reserved side thinking our paleolithic-neolithic ancestor were very intelligent to build such things.

Megalithic Structures of Portugal

During my mother and sisters grand tour, they also made a point to visit the Evora Complex. This Megalithic mecca has been deemed "Iberian Mesopotamia" and the site is the oldest and larges of Europe. You can read a bit more about the details here, but one of the most striking details to me is this fact:

In the case of Evora, it can be seen that it is located on one of only two latitudes in the world at which, in some nights of the year, you get the full moon on the zenith. The other latitude is 51° 10' N, the same as Stonehenge. --from ancient-wisdom.com

Cool. Very cool. Archaeology is cool, as in trying to use the physical evidence at the site to discover details of the lifestyle of the people that erected, used, or reoccupied the site. Where any of them my ancestors? I dont know, but of course I would like to think so. Even if not, the culture of the region was undoubdely influenced by whatever was going on here. Even if none of my ancestors had ever visited the site, it is still very likely they were effected by it. Maybe hear stories. Maybe planned a pilgrimage. Maybe a traveler once described it. I will likely never know, but it is fantastical to think about it.

So what is know about this? This video contains an up-close and personal look at many sites across Portugal, but the videographer continues to undermine archaeology and spout opinion about each sites significance to Ley Lines. At one point, while standing under a 5.6 meter phallic rock, he caries on about how unlikely he thinks it is that this rock represents a penis and is related to pagan fertility-worship but is rather a connecting point in a global system of metaphysical energies and this was a kind of receiver and or transmitter for global civilizations to communicate. Ugh.

Archaeological interpretations are the best we have. We can interpret whatever we want, but it is the evidence that supports and interpretation that allows us to be more confident.Word from my mother and sister this morning confirms that there is much more literature available at the site. It is apparently a conservation area and there are plans to expand the visitor education aspects to contain reenactments or village life dioramas. When they return, I hope to hear more about this site from the mouth of my family. To hear the stories of the magnificent place, as maybe one of my ancestor may have. Will I plan a pilgrimage?

For now, I will keep this pilgrimage and this sacred sites in my dreams.

Maps showing the phases of completion of the site from the
early Neolithic to today.

Iberian Paganism

Whatever was going on here, it was big. Some people cared a whole lot about something to go through all this trouble. The most common, and obvious, interpretation is a religious practiced intertwined with lifestyle. These people were agriculturalists, farmers. They not only 'lived off the land' but they manipulated the land to increase their chances of survival. They were not hunter-gatherer types, well maybe there was some vestige of that lifestyle that remained, but this level of civilization, population, regional connectivity, and technology requires food abundance and access to abundant energy. As with most agrarian cultures, spirituality and religion become intertwined with the seasonal influences. In modern day Wicca, this has culminated in the blanket called the Wheel of the Year, which is kind of a mish-mash of bi-quarterly dates that correlate with both meteorologic change causing important food-growing change. Such as the onset of spring on the equinox, when the land becomes fertile to seed, the birds flutter and nest, and there balance of the day-night lengths. Human religion celebrated it, and other annual astrologic-meterologic-biologic changes observable in the natural system because they knew their lives depended on it. A precarious life, that of the farm villager peasant. Feast or famine. Food under lock and key, by the governing leader(s) and religious leader(s). These structures probably serve a technological function for the people that erected it and subsequently used it to tie them, the spirit world, goddesses and gods, and the agricultural wheel of the year together. Maybe it was measuring the day length to get an accurate expectation for food supplies. Maybe it was an elaborate offering system to specific deities for each day or season. Maybe it was an ancestral honoring structure, where stones were erected to honor the passing of that years dead. Maybe... this, maybe that. Maybe is mostly what we have.

So what else remains of that time? If there are claims, or maybes, what evidence is there to support? We see the structures, but where is the culture? Anywhere you go, where is the culture? People are wearing it, eating it, and speaking it. Culture is the peoples reflection of their landscape. So where are these people? Well, one of their potential ancestors is behind these words but I have been removed for so long there is no reasonable survival of culture. But local to Evora, there are families that have been there continuously. Is there reasonable survival of culture with them? Maybe. Kind of. Even if the direct descendant of the person responsible for physically erecting one of these stones was present, most of their lifestyle culture is influenced by the intervening thousands of years. So what of the stone-erectors survives?

Oral tradition and other record in stone.

"Fountain of the Idol" of Braga, northern Portugal. Interpreted as depicting the Goddess Nabia and God Tongoenabiagus.  

David A. Wacks of my alma matter, University of Oregon, has this blog post regarding the surviving oral traditions in today's Iberian culture: Lusitanian Mythology (what survives of the cultures Polytheist Paganism practice) in Spanish Ballads. This is part of his archives as "Pagan Iberia" and it seems there exists rich literature on the subject. Here is a wiki.

This old reddit thread led me to this blogger, Golden Trail: A wayfarer's path, is self reportedly Polytheist and Portuguese and has here collected some of the surviving mythology. The original thread was asking about 'CeltIberian Paganism', because largely the pagan peoples the Romans encountered they called Celts. Often the 'Celt' terminology is applied to language groups, cultural similarities, or again the Romans enemies on the periphery. So, though the far west Iberian Peninsula has some similarities to other Celt culture, there are abundant differences and it seems this cultural center had its own regional significance but was not recorded by the Romans. What remains, then, in the oral traditions and other stone carvings is just the mist of the mythology and the Iberian Pantheon. The above cited blogger, as a worshiper, does a great job to acknowledge that modern identities of these deities are not past ones. Again, it is only a mist that survives.

From wiki, via David Wacks blog. Map showing celtic migration
Also from wiki, showing Lusitanian area.
Back to me ;). If I am of Portuguese, loosely Iberian, descent then it is entirely possible and likely that some of my ancestors were involved in worship of one or more of the deities described there. Again, it doesn't compel or obligate me to adopt this pantheon simple because my ancestors once had, but to me it strengthens my dedication to a pagan identity. Not necessarily polytheist, but certainly spiritual roots that acknowledge and worships environmental changes.

My ancestors migrated and it is why I am not residing in the place they were. These ancestors of this time discussed above (which is many thousands of years) must have also migrated to reside there. These people, call the Portuguese, Lusitanian, Iberian, Celt, or other must have come from somewhere else, as Homo sapiens is know to have evolved in Africa and only left the Mother Continent some 60,000 years ago and reaching the tip of Iberian Peninsula only 25,000 years ago (source: map cited in Vox). Remember, mitochondrial eve: the mother of all humanity.

Statuette of Mitochondrial Eve
As long ago as 30,000 years ago, my ancestors may have arrived in the Iberian region. There is cave art in the Escoural Cave not far from the Evora stone-circles. The cave has sign of occupation as long ago as 50,000 years ago by Neanderthals and then a second occupation during the Upper Paleolithic (35,000 - 8,000 years ago) by anatomically modern humans. And of course the beautiful Chauvet Cave in southern France, a mere 1,300 kilometers, has the most spectacular cave art of the time. Overwhelmingly, academics agree that these folks were not agriculturalists (farmers) but were on the spectrum of hunter-gatherer types. Population was sparse, there was at least on other human in the same geographic region (Neanderthals), and this was the 'new frontier' of tribal expanse at some point. We may not know many specifics about the lifestyle and cultural customs of these people (there is literature on this, but too detailed for me to expand on here) but one thing is very clear: animals were very, very important--even sacred--to these people. Out of all this things that could have been so intricately drawn on these cave walls, it is the great Pleistocene beasts they chose to honor. Important, for food, clothing and tools. Plants are important, but they stay still and are not quite as evasive. Animals, however, are very evasive and every modern day hunter knows you much learn a bit about the lifestyle of the animal to be an efficient hunter (though not required today when you can drive up and blast it with a center-fire riffle). The 'religion' of these people is broadly categorized as animism: the belief that all things are animated with a spiritual essence.

Stunning cave art of the Chavet Cave, France
The people that I descend from, which at this point is becoming mythical, were once animist. Let me recapitulate: My mothers grandfather was born in Hawaii but his grandparents immigrated from the Azores Islands (Portugal). Sometime preceding the 1860s (one of the oldest records we have of our Azores ancestors), those greats likely came from mainland Portugal, which has a Christian history after the Celt-Iberian roots (which probably also had its fair share of inter-regional conflict). Those agricultural-astrological pagans were the descendant results of agriculture spreading into the area after there were already paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies (animists).

This is validating for me: significant rocks, megalithic structures, pagan religions and mythology, and animist cave art in Portugal. But why? Again, it is not like I not feel compelled or obligated to follow a specific spiritual lineage because my ancestors did. But, it is incredibly validating to arrive at my own religio-spiritual conclusions that my ancestors once had and practiced, as different as it looked.

I am Pagan.

A animist, geocentric pagan dirt-witch to be a bit more precise.

So where my ancestors, so were ALL of our ancestors. Everyone has a similar circuitous ancestral path back to a hunter-gatherer based lifestyle, which were/are usually animist.

When someone says "I prescribe to _____ religion because that is the religion of my ancestors", I wonder at what ancestors they are speaking of? Their parents? Their African ancestors of 65,000 years ago? Likely some arbitrary point in-between that they happen to have good information on.

My own ancestral history navigates from animism to paganism and polytheism to monotheism (much of my extended family is Christian of various denominations, and I once was as well) and I have reversed that trend. At any point during this reversal, I could say "Oh! Now I have arrived at the religion of my ancestors, and should follow that!". But in my own spiritual path, the religion of my ancestors has never been an interest; it is not why I've explore any path or information, except for this record here. Instead, I have followed a path that is intuitive for me... a druid path, a solitary witch path, and an eclectic pagan path. I've taken a lot of data points, constantly analyze those data and the current experience, and have arrived at my own, unique conclusions.

I feel like I honor so many of my ancestors by arriving at conclusions that navigate through their own conclusions of their respective age.

Full Circle.