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Author Topic: Neo-pagan activities at prehistoric sites  (Read 1639 times)

Aranel

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Neo-pagan activities at prehistoric sites
« on: October 13, 2013, 12:37:19 pm »
So I have a bit of a thing about British pre-history and I love visiting prehistoric sites. Now most of the ones around where I live usually just have everyday litter at them (you know, food wrappers, plastic bottles and the like, which still annoy me and I do clean it up (saying that, I clean up that sort of stuff wherever I am)). However, the few times I've been to visit more famous prehistoric sites there has always been lots of litter which is very obviously from pagans.

For example, West Kennet Long Barrow. First time I went there it was full of tealight holders, incense sticks, crystals, bits of plants and flowers, ribbons, pieces of paper with spells and the like on them, and the thing that annoyed me the most: a huge pillar candle which had been wedge on the stones and the wax had run all down them.
Second time I went there (3 years later) it was just as bad. But there was a group from Reading Uni there and the lecturer spoke about the rubbish and how there was a local pagan group which went around all the sites twice a year to do a big clean up of them. So why do some people think it's perfectly acceptable to litter a site?

The place that really upset me though, was Wayland's Smithy. I was desperate to visit it. Got about 100 metres from it when I was 15 (that was when I first went to West Kennet as well) but we weren't entirely sure how much further it would be and because it was dropping dark we had to turn back. 3 years later I finally got to visit it I was greeted with this lovely, wonderful sight.
(If you can't read it, it's a poem thing about living after death and it also mentions the god and the goddess so odds are it was done by a pagan.)  
And then, inside the burial chamber was similar litter to that at West Kennet but also, some delightful person had written, in permanent fucking marker, the names of some Greek gods on the walls inside the chamber. At least the poem was written in chalk (I didn't have enough water or anything to wipe it off with when I was there but the rain will have got it off eventually.)

Now, I mentioned about this on another pagan forum. I can't go back to get the direct quote of what somebody's response was (I changed my password and email to something random as I don't want to go back there) but it was something along the lines of: these sites were the prehistoric peoples way of putting their mark on the landscape and expressing their beliefs. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable for pagans now to express their beliefs at these sites in whatever way they want.

Anybody got any opinions about that? Because I sometimes feel that I'm being a bit unreasonable. These sites have been around for thousands of years and a bit of candle wax and chalk and stuff isn't going to damage them. But I still feel like it's wrong and it really pisses me off.
1. No person alive today has any claim over these sites. We don't know what the beliefs were of the people who built them, or the people who were buried in them, and it's wrong to put our own religious beliefs before there. I see it the same as me going into a churchyard and doing a ritual to my gods over the graves of the Christians buried there.
2. These places now are there for everybody to visit. They're not for exclusive use by pagans or by any one group of people. Not everybody is going to want to see litter and graffiti at these places.

But I do still feel a bit like I'm trying to tell people how to practise their faith. The pagan society at my university did a trip at Halloween to a few burial chambers in Wales. My best friend (and I love him to pieces) did a ritual in one of them and was going to leave an incense stick burning and a small crystal behind. I nearly flipped out at him. I did ask him to not leave them behind but he wanted to leave them because it was part of the ritual to leave them. In the end, he didn't leave the incense stick and tucked the crystal out of sight and left it there. We spent the rest of the day pissed off at each other.
Thinking back on it, I feel like I was a bit out of order but I still think it's wrong to leave anything like that behind.

LiminalAuggie

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Re: Neo-pagan activities at prehistoric sites
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2013, 01:09:38 pm »
Quote from: Aranel;125206

Thinking back on it, I feel like I was a bit out of order but I still think it's wrong to leave anything like that behind.

 
You were absolutely NOT out of line and I don't know if parks and monuments have this motto in the UK but:
Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

The damage done by one well-meaning person wanting to celebrate nature gets compounded by the thousands, millions of people leaving things behind at these historic sites over the years and can destroy what people are coming there to experience. So, IMO, if these people really cared about the places they were visiting at all, they would not be co-opting some other people's sacred space for their own personal spiritual gain, and they would not be ruining these monuments and preventing people in generations to come from enjoying them.

It might be hindering someone else's beloved freedom of expression, but if they're expressing themselves in such a way as to permanently damage the site (and candle wax and chalk adds up, believe me), then 300 years from no no one's going to be able to get much enjoyment when the rocks are all eroded and the topsoil's gone to shit from people's litter. I almost never say this, but think of the children!

Sorry, this is one of my all-time pet peeves and I got all riled up just reading your subject heading. :o but no, you did the right thing, I think.

A personal example: when I lived in St. Louis, my best friend and I would drive across the river to visit Cahokia Mounds on the solstices and equinoxes, and listen to a talk from one of the park staff on the construction of the woodhenge, how they sourced the wood they used to rebuild it, and the history of the site. And if it wasn't cloudy and we could actually SEE the sun rise over the cedar poles, there'd always be one or two people (myself included) who would just quietly go up to the pole in question and have a minute of silent prayer, in memory of the people who built this giant city so long ago, and honoring the sun as it rose. That's all I personally felt comfortable doing, because this place was not made for me or my modern culture.

The staff who run the site are very adamant about not co-opting a Native historical monument for modern neopagan celebrations. And I guess they come off a little gruff and strict, but the point is, the site gets better preserved for future generations. And that's what's important.

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Re: Neo-pagan activities at prehistoric sites
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2013, 01:25:37 pm »
Quote from: Aranel;125206
But I do still feel a bit like I'm trying to tell people how to practise their faith. The pagan society at my university did a trip at Halloween to a few burial chambers in Wales. My best friend (and I love him to pieces) did a ritual in one of them and was going to leave an incense stick burning and a small crystal behind. I nearly flipped out at him. I did ask him to not leave them behind but he wanted to leave them because it was part of the ritual to leave them. In the end, he didn't leave the incense stick and tucked the crystal out of sight and left it there. We spent the rest of the day pissed off at each other.
Thinking back on it, I feel like I was a bit out of order but I still think it's wrong to leave anything like that behind.

You weren't out of order. Did you take your friend up on the issue of the damage done to the earth that they (probably) consider sacred, as a result of the their ritual litter? If so, and they still didn't listen, they've totally missed the point of doing rituals at sacred sites in the first place, and they're probably beyond reasoning with. (Though I usually also add the warning that this kind of behaviour is eventually going to get Pagans banned from ritual sites, or - more likely - lead to more exclusion zones like those around Stonehenge. Sometimes that makes these people think. Not often.)

I had an excellent experience visiting Wayland's Smithy - didn't see any rubbish or anything like that - but I've been to places where ritual litter is left everywhere. That's not fair on the site, its visitors, or any of its inhabitants, from animals to nature spirits.

We all learn slowly. I left ribbons on trees by holy wells in Ireland a few years ago - I had an 'everyone is doing it' attitude. I'm trying to learn better ways to honour the earth. Nothing needs to be left after a ritual - certainly nothing non-biodegradable.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2013, 01:26:20 pm by Naomi J »
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Aisling

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Re: Neo-pagan activities at prehistoric sites
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2013, 01:34:50 pm »
Quote from: Aranel;125206
Anybody got any opinions about that? Because I sometimes feel that I'm being a bit unreasonable. These sites have been around for thousands of years and a bit of candle wax and chalk and stuff isn't going to damage them. But I still feel like it's wrong and it really pisses me off.

You aren't being unreasonable in the least.  

Sites that have been around for thousands of years can actually be damaged by even the most basic human activity.  The Lascaux cave paintings are a good example.  The caves had to be closed to the public because the combination of light and human respiration were doing serious damage to the paintings.  A bit of wax or ribbon may seem minor, but it pays to err on the side of caution and assume that any human activity has the potential to do damage.

My opinion on the subject: (said in a loud booming, voice of the gods) Being a pagan does not excuse one from cleaning up after oneself. The idea of "carry in, carry out" was mentioned in another thread recently and this is something that should apply, IMHO, to all historical, natural, and sacred sites.  If there are appropriate waste receptacles, fine, put the trash there. If not, it needs to be carried off the property and properly disposed off. Leaving trash behind and excusing it with one's religion is not even remotely acceptable.

Permanent graffiti is likewise completely unacceptable, whether it comes in the form of paint, marker, or carving.  I'm okay with minimal amounts of temporary graffiti that can easily be cleaned up and do no lasting damage (for example a sigil or rune drawn in the dirt or on natural unaltered stone with charcoal). Unfortunately, I don't think a lot of folks have enough good sense to differentiate between a temporary mark and something that would do lasting damage.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2013, 01:35:40 pm by Aisling »
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Oíche

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Re: Neo-pagan activities at prehistoric sites
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2013, 07:20:03 pm »
Quote from: Aranel;125206
So I have a bit of a thing about British pre-history and I love visiting prehistoric sites. Now most of the ones around where I live usually just have everyday litter at them (you know, food wrappers, plastic bottles and the like, which still annoy me and I do clean it up (saying that, I clean up that sort of stuff wherever I am)). However, the few times I've been to visit more famous prehistoric sites there has always been lots of litter which is very obviously from pagans.

For example, West Kennet Long Barrow. First time I went there it was full of tealight holders, incense sticks, crystals, bits of plants and flowers, ribbons, pieces of paper with spells and the like on them, and the thing that annoyed me the most: a huge pillar candle which had been wedge on the stones and the wax had run all down them.
Second time I went there (3 years later) it was just as bad. But there was a group from Reading Uni there and the lecturer spoke about the rubbish and how there was a local pagan group which went around all the sites twice a year to do a big clean up of them. So why do some people think it's perfectly acceptable to litter a site?

The place that really upset me though, was Wayland's Smithy. I was desperate to visit it. Got about 100 metres from it when I was 15 (that was when I first went to West Kennet as well) but we weren't entirely sure how much further it would be and because it was dropping dark we had to turn back. 3 years later I finally got to visit it I was greeted with this lovely, wonderful sight.
(If you can't read it, it's a poem thing about living after death and it also mentions the god and the goddess so odds are it was done by a pagan.)  
And then, inside the burial chamber was similar litter to that at West Kennet but also, some delightful person had written, in permanent fucking marker, the names of some Greek gods on the walls inside the chamber. At least the poem was written in chalk (I didn't have enough water or anything to wipe it off with when I was there but the rain will have got it off eventually.)

Now, I mentioned about this on another pagan forum. I can't go back to get the direct quote of what somebody's response was (I changed my password and email to something random as I don't want to go back there) but it was something along the lines of: these sites were the prehistoric peoples way of putting their mark on the landscape and expressing their beliefs. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable for pagans now to express their beliefs at these sites in whatever way they want.

Anybody got any opinions about that? Because I sometimes feel that I'm being a bit unreasonable. These sites have been around for thousands of years and a bit of candle wax and chalk and stuff isn't going to damage them. But I still feel like it's wrong and it really pisses me off.
1. No person alive today has any claim over these sites. We don't know what the beliefs were of the people who built them, or the people who were buried in them, and it's wrong to put our own religious beliefs before there. I see it the same as me going into a churchyard and doing a ritual to my gods over the graves of the Christians buried there.
2. These places now are there for everybody to visit. They're not for exclusive use by pagans or by any one group of people. Not everybody is going to want to see litter and graffiti at these places.

But I do still feel a bit like I'm trying to tell people how to practise their faith. The pagan society at my university did a trip at Halloween to a few burial chambers in Wales. My best friend (and I love him to pieces) did a ritual in one of them and was going to leave an incense stick burning and a small crystal behind. I nearly flipped out at him. I did ask him to not leave them behind but he wanted to leave them because it was part of the ritual to leave them. In the end, he didn't leave the incense stick and tucked the crystal out of sight and left it there. We spent the rest of the day pissed off at each other.
Thinking back on it, I feel like I was a bit out of order but I still think it's wrong to leave anything like that behind.

You definitely were in the right!
I'm a pagan but I'm also studying Archaeology and I have an incredible pet peeve towards this sort of ritual littering.
I live in Ireland and we have our famous prehistoric sites and it drives people here insane when people think it's ok to leave hot tealights (they crack and weaken stone!) and bits of crystals wedged between rocks (talk about damaging and causing instability to the structures!).
In Ireland it is highly illegal to interfere with and damage our monuments- you can be heavily fined and/or jailed for it. Your friend may want to remember that if he decides to try that here- it won't be received well.
I know of one woman who's a pagan and runs the heritage centre for one of our biggest sites and she removes those bits and pieces regularly because they damage the site and are very thoughtless towards the people who built these sites. I agree with her.

What many people fail to remember is that most of these sites are graves! They have burials! Would your friend appreciate it if someone went up to his mother's grave in years to come and started messing with the headstone or digging around it to bury rubbish? I don't think so.
We need to pay more respect to these ancestors and people who built these incredible structures!

If I pay a visit to these sites and decide to leave an offering I will make sure it is small and bio-degradable- bread or water/juice pored in the grass maybe for example. :)
If I wanted to burn a candle I'd do it within a container and on the ground, not on the stones. And I'd make sure to take everything with me.
Also all offerings outside the monuments- food doesn't breakdown too well inside a stone chamber and it attracts rodents, etc. who could cause damage!

I'd discourage anyone from leaving crystals in monuments as they will damage the structures (some crystals dissolve in rain and could eat through the stone!) and interfere with archaeological information in years to come.

Personally, if I saw someone writing on a stone at these sites I'd call the police and report them for vandalism- because that is what is is! If it's not acceptable on Granny's headstone, it isn't acceptable on these older graves as far as I'm concerned!

Your friend got off lucky compared to how I would have reacted :p
I would have removed his crystal personally and told the society auditor to deal with this while citing the local monument laws. We used to have our own pagan soc in my uni and it would not have been tolerated as far as I know.

(Sorry about the rant, it's just a subject very close to my heart XD :D: )
« Last Edit: October 13, 2013, 07:22:53 pm by Oíche »
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Medulla

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Re: Neo-pagan activities at prehistoric sites
« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2013, 06:50:31 pm »
Quote from: Aranel;125206

Thinking back on it, I feel like I was a bit out of order but I still think it's wrong to leave anything like that behind.

 
You're not out of line. When people do rituals anywhere, it's only basic politeness to respect their surroundings. I see it as throwing a party: if I owned my own house I could hold wild parties where everyone trashed the place if I so wished. If I was throwing a party in a house that didn't belong to me I would be more careful and clean up after. Same thing with rituals. That it's a public site doesn't mean people can go there and use it in any way they want. On the contrary, the fact that it's public means everyone is free to go there but they should also be mindful that others are and should be free to enjoy the place also. If I go to a local park I can have a picnic but if I litter and everyone else litters then soon the park would turn into a dump. A public place is just that, a place for everyone, so nobody is entitled to hog it more than others.

In the case of pre-historic sites it annoys me also because they have some archaeological value or what have you, they're part of the past and if people destroy them soon we won't have them.

As to the spiritual side, I don't see the point of going to prehistoric sites to worship. Archaeologists and anthropologists can tell some sites were sacred by markers that indicate that but there are other places where it's hard to tell. For all we know some places could have just been someone's house or storage room. What's the point? To me it would be like breaking into an abandoned building just to perform a ritual, it adds nothing but a cool atmosphere. Going into a prehistoric sacred space seems equally pointless if you're not worshipping those deities like going into a place of worship of a different religion to worship your own. Depending on your belief system it could even be really disrespectful. However if people choose to do that, that's on them. Littering and defacing things however is just rude and obnoxious.

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