Photos and text by Shane Faulkner
The weather for today’s session was a lot more stable than last weeks. Most of the snow had cleared but the temperatures were still low. We made our way to the gallery room to meet the rest of the group. On entering we were delighted to the fluted sounds of what could only mean one thing, Max had returned. We settled down to a brief chat about what may happen after the group sessions finish and what previous groups have done. We also talked about next week’s equinox plans.
Briony talked about the clay making process and mentioned modern examples of creations made by others and how productive and fun it had been for those involved. We were shown examples of clay faces and how they were formed onto tree trunks. We touched on Neolithic pottery and some of the round based pots that were used during this period. We learnt about the hands on aspects of the Neolithic clay pot makers and the process of heating and burning during use. We also learnt about even heat distribution of round based pots for cooking on fires. The information lead us nicely into our next activity.
We all walked to a tree lined avenue adjacent to the Keiller museum. Half way down the avenue we came to some cut tree stump seats and a table. Here, the clay was cut and a selection of clay making tools were laid out (see pic below). Briony started by showing us an example of clay making techniques by forming a face on a tree trunk. As we watched, Briony created facial features with such ease (I believe she has done this before!) and before long an anatomically true face manifested from the clay. With all of us confident we could imitate Briony’s creative side (yeah, right), we collected our clay and tools and all chose our own tree trunks to work with. A few people sat at the tree stump to make clay pottery.
With my focus on the tree trunk and the clay and with birds singing in the distance, I experienced rare moments of internal peace. The creative therapy was engrossing, making me lose myself in the process, thus leaving worries and stresses at the gate. Up and down the tree avenue, faces and forms began to sprout from the bark, familiar objects rose from the tree stump table, an expression of all our inner worlds and pure and unique creativeness. As we neared the end of our time for this activity, some had completed their creations, whilst for others, there was a mad rush to finish ‘the original idea’. I’m sure a lot of us would happily have stayed doing this for a least another hour. Time was thus called and we all met for a chat about what we had done and we all walked along the avenue admiring others creative expressions! The whole activity was symbolic, powerful, joyful and yet so simplistic and primal.
We touched more on pottery and its makers. We heard about Neolithic peoples and tried to imagine and understand what inspired them to create what they did. We heard how pottery was vital for the culture and how over time the skills develop into specific specialisations. We then pondered on questions such as; what was the social structure like and specifically who would have been making the pottery? How many people had the pottery making skill? Were there expert craftsman solely for the process or was it learnt and utilised by many? Was pottery made by males, females or both? What age groups were involved, for example, did children make pottery? Was it taught at a young age or did the children pick up on and mimic the adult’s creations? Whose job was whose?
Thus on deeper reflection, I ask myself; can we really associate with the peoples of the Neolithic period or have we lost that specific perspective forever? Have we indeed lost the meanings and intentions (being ephemeral in nature) behind the permanent, organic, physical finds, therefore creating an absence within archaeological knowledge? Or conversely, was the basis of ideas and thinking of Neolithic people all that different to more modern peoples? For example, does there exist a timeless, innate, common, universal theme to human thought, expression and creativity? With this last thought in mind, can we then not glean meaning an understanding of older cultures from perhaps, modern cultural examples? We may never truly know the answers to these questions, but I hope that at some point we will.
As we returned, Max played and communicated with the avian fauna (see video below & link for more from Max.
Back in the gallery room, Max played a bit of freestyle flute and talked about the artistic expression of our ancestors. He shared the origin of his music with us, mentioning that when he was young, he left school with no qualification. However, he did then discover music and later played flute in the streets at the age of 18. For him, this was a doorway to a new concept of the world, a way of self-expression. He was following a dream, one of which was to be a guitarist. Max never learnt to read music but found his own way, his own musical interpretation. He talked about a powerful moment of hearing an instrument and had a life revelation, an awakening. To Max his music is about a personal quest of the past within the present. Another huge door Max walked through, was into the world of faerie (I myself have walked through this door). He saw the energy of this world of the small people and the magic it holds. He mentioned inspiration also from the movie ‘Dark Crystal’.
Max then mentioned an encounter with a little man who made incredible instruments. He then played a Celtic flute for us, inspired by fairy and evoking the spirit of the elves and Celtic memories. He also shared his experience of living in montane forest and how this opened another door for him. Max explained that he was sitting at foot of tree one day, listening to a bird singing, and decided to practise with the bird, gaining inspiration from its tune and learning new music. A shamanic instrument was next, a symbol of the migrating bird (to go and to return). He explained his animal themed instruments in helping thus to commune with such an animal, the spirit of animals, past and present.
Max finished talking about living in a reconstructed tribal setting complete with tepee, skins of animals and living like prehistoric man around a fire. He told a funny story about meeting a modern man whose car had broken down, the story ended with police looking for kangaroos and how they started calling themselves the ‘kangaroo tribe’! Doesn’t get more surreal than that! Max continues on his journey of discovery, looking for talents from within, an innate memory from prehistory, linking past to present, a universal music, transcending time through one’s consciousness.
Next to talk was Steve, a group volunteer. Steve talked about equinox, linking this in with our equinox plans and next week’s final session. In an informative talk, Steve mentioned that the equinox meaning can cause arguments in its understanding. Is it equal day and night? Or is it when the sun rises due east? Is it the half way point between the winter and summer solstice? etc. He did say that the equinox is a return to a position after a completion of a cycle and that cycle is represented symbolically as a zero ‘0’ with zero meaning the return or completion of a cycle. Steve said we don’t have to start at the top of a circular cycle, we can start anywhere. For some ancient cultures they started in the east. Commonly the 3 o’clock position. An example given was the Vatican and its great temple facing to the East. And the great ceremony for Christians is of course called ‘EASTer’.
We also learnt about the cycles of star constellations and the precession of the equinoxes. For example, the constellations go through a cycle, taking turns to be in line with the sun at the equinox position. It is called the precession of the equinoxes and it goes backward through the star signs. Our present astrological age is Pisces. The age started about 2000 years ago -the birth of Christ. It is why Christians use the symbol of the fish. The constellation of Aries was the sign that the equinox sun was pointing to, i.e. about 2200 BC. It was about then that Avebury went through its final and grandest transformation.
We then learnt about the spring equinox. This is where the sun moves to its high point and rises north of east, and the full moon crosses over and rises south of east. At Avebury however, there doesn’t seem to be a place in the henge to celebrate the equinox. But there is West Kennet long barrow. Around the time of the equinox, if you wait in the back chamber, a small patch of sun light travels across the sarsen at the end of the back wall. Steve ended explaining that spring is, “a time of new growth, new life and new beginnings. A time to sing and dance and tell happy stories. A good time. We have made it through the long cold nights of winter. Here comes the sun”.
We finished the extended day’s session planning next week’s equinox ceremony.
Next week’s final Human Henge session – Stone circle ceremony of the spring equinox!