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The importance of oral traditions

In "traditional" history, great reliance is placed on the written form. But what we mean by "traditional" is itelf a relatively recent invention from the Victorian era. Actually, given the great wave of forgeries that eminated from medieval monasteries (especially of their own charters), one could easily come to trust the written record less than the oral alternatives. Especially when great wealth could result from creating "dodgy dossiers".

Surprisingly though, even when we accept the written versions as genuine, this often leads to some fundamental confusions. Caused by mistaking the first written record with the original form or naming. The earlier oral version is forgotten or ignored.

In the intellectual rush to prefer the static and literal form, intellectual snobbery became rampant, as if only the privileged intellectual elite should have custody of knowledge, or only the written form can be trusted.

Old Norse stories

I'm indebted to Maria Christine Kvilhaug (also known as Freyia Völundarhúsins - The Lady of The Labyrinths ) for sharing her own deep insight into Norse mythology. She is the author of The Seed of Yggdrasill - Deciphering the Hidden Messages in Old Norse Myths, a non-fiction study of Edda lore and the meanings of metaphors in Old Norse poetry. This followed the Hidden Knowledge in Old Norse Myths videos on YouTube.

As she reveals, what was written down in the early Norwegian Christian era were shallow and literal transcripts of the Old Norse stories. These lacked all depth of meaning, without even an understanding of the meaning of the names of people and places. Allegorical meanings were lost or discarded. A pre-Christian history or children's fable was acceptable, but a pre-Christian spiritual dimension was not. Other discards were the philosophical position that we make a personal choice between good and evil (light and dark, positive and negative). As in, the personal choice is inside our own self and our own mind. In which case, it is not something that we need to pay a priest to do for us. Good -v- Evil.

It's worth a look at the parts of Europe where oral traditions are strongest.

(map to go here)

Gaelic Allegories

The strongest oral traditions appear to be all along the northern and western European coast in rural communities, from Norway and the Orkneys, through the Highlands and Western Isles, to Ireland, Wales and Cornwall, and then to Brittany, Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias and Northern Portugal. It's also in the oral traditions of poems and mythology that the deepest insights are still preserved. Often disguised in plain sight, in folklore as allegorical tales and riddles.

It's no accident that we find the same tradition of allegorical story-telling all over the world (including Aboriginal Australian and Native American). The biggest difficulty is finding a way to see through the mists of time, and centuries of dumbing-down of folklore into children's stories or literal nonsense.

Sheila McGregor (a.k.a. Alexander Aberfeldy) with her excellent series on Decoding The Past remind us that hunting wild animals (like deer) is a largely forgotten part of our history, including real sources for fairy and pixie stories.

One source of information is Gaelic folk tales and folk lore, nonsensical or not. Scotland has many similar stories which on the face of it make little sense but which represent the efforts of illiterate rural people to explain an archaic word or phrase which they no longer understood. Some of these stories retain elements of logical speculation but most contain miraculous elements and many have been reduced to nonsense, both within Gaeldom and by their translation into English. Particularly when we find nonsense we can be certain that there was once a nugget of important fact, like a dragon, which demanded an explanation.
Ref : The Last of the Dragons (Sheila McGregor)

The Romans complained that the Celts (of Gaul) talked in riddles. Because a skilled Celtic story teller would deliberately make their stories a many-layered thing, with twists and turns, and literal nonsensical tales that would entertain children and simple folk, but also containing allegorical lessons and knowledge.

Carmina Gadelica

Here are some Gaelic oral traditions that were caught just in time. Carmina Gadelica has been called "the most complete anthology of Celtic oral tradition ever assembled".

Carmina Gadelica is a compendium of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, literary-folkloric poems and songs, proverbs, lexical items, historical anecdotes, natural history observations, and miscellaneous lore gathered in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1860 and 1909. The material was recorded, translated, and reworked by the exciseman and folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912).
Ref : Carmina Gadelica (Wikipedia)

I'm imagining that those must have been interesting encounters.

Aye laddie, here's that tax collector Carmichael again, and now he wants to collect our stories as well!.

Three volumes "with illustrative notes on words, rites and customs, dying and obsolete: orally collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland." :
Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1
Carmina Gadelica, Volume 2
Carmina Gadelica, Volume 3

Dragons and Pixies

Stories of dragon-slaying were once commonplace. Now mainly regarded as quaint local legends; barely ever recognised as a still-lingering memory of militant Christians becoming the new overlords by killing the local pagan priests or ousting the existing kings. These were commonly called dragons (or Pendragon) because they spoke "with a fiery breath". Which we now know as inspired or passionate words, encouraging people to keep to the old ways and beliefs. Along with more allegorical meanings, like beacons, furnaces and transformation.

In Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, stories of fairies and pixies refer to the hunter-gatherers of the woods and forests that had disappeared. One might wonder why they disappeared. Or where they went?

Turkey (Göltepe) and Cyprus were original sources of tin and copper for the early Bronze Age. But both places were largely abandoned as sources of refined metals, because the miners had stripped the places bare of forests, to get wood to fuel the fires to smelt the metal. The same thing had happened in the Dead Sea Rift Valley, which had large copper mines, and areas from Jordan to the Golan Heights, which lost huge forests of cedar trees. Only remembered now in the flag of the Lebanon, and in legend as "King Solomon's Mines".
Ref : Jordan copper mines

In both places, once the forests were stripped away, erosion removed what little top soil remained and they became barren landscapes. Did the same thing also happen with the many ancient copper mines in Afghanistan?
Ref : Mining in Afghanistan

Is it safe to assume the same happened many times in many places where tin and copper were found? Extraction continued until there was no ore, or no fuel left for smelting. Then the traders and metal workers had to move further and further to find new sources. Like, up the wild Atlantic coast to Spain, Brittany, Cornwall, Wales and Ireland.

In the case of Devon and Cornwall, after most of the forests had been stripped bare, what we had left was peat bogs and bleak moorland. Maybe that's where some of the pixie legends come from. Especially the legends with pixies being angry about what people were doing. I'd still be pissed-off about that if I was them pixies.

See also - Here Be Dragons!

As for the hunter-gatherers, I've come to realise that most people have only the vaguest appreciation of what that world was like. Especially so for most folk now living in metropolitan bubbles. The nearest some people get to being a hunter-gatherer might be when their local Department Store has a big sale on. Whereas some people living out in the sticks (like myself) still have that as part of their daily life. In my case, it might only be a case of finding where my stray hens are hiding and laying their eggs. But I still have to hunt for them and gather them in. Or gathering hedgerow fruits in autumn. This is romantised as the "Good Life" (or living close to nature). These kind of skills never used to be written down, it was part of peasant life, and hardly important enough to bother writing down what peasants were doing. So it was an oral tradition.

And it's via the hunter-gatherer oral traditions that many of the greatest stories were propagated.

“We don’t normally regard agriculture as a disastrous innovation in human evolution, but one day in Tasmania an Aboriginal elder named Uncle Bul made it strikingly clear to researcher Robert Lawlor just how profound an effect the decline of the old hunter-gatherer lifestyle and the advent of agriculture exacted on the Western psyche. The crux of the problem, the old man told Lawlor, is that through agriculture “white men have lost their Dreaming.” That’s a loss of major significance because according to the Australian Aborigines when “white men”—or any people, themselves included—lose their Dreaming, they’ve lost the crucial nexus that weaves together Heaven and Earth, women and men, Nature and humanity, and makes long-term cultural survival and true prosperity possible. During trance vision, Uncle Bul sees a “web of intersecting threads” on which scenes of the physical world, dreams, and prophetic visions are hung like cinematic beads—an aspect of the original Dreaming that created our world, in other words. “But inner fears break that glimpse of an invisible webwork, leaving only a world of isolated things”—and inner fear is the psychological state of most of Western humankind.”

In Aboriginal cosmology the universal manifesting field is consciousness, which simply externalizes or dreams the world of thoughts, forms, and matter.

Richard Leviton, Voices from the Dreamtime: The Aboriginal Vision & Western Culture

It strikes me that this Dreaming - the crucial nexus that weaves together Heaven and Earth, women and men, Nature and humanity - is profoundly similar in many ways to the psychology of Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious , the physics of David Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order and the biology of Rupert Sheldrake's morphogenetic fields.

The loss of Dreaming, for each of us, may well have a profound effect on our personal psychology and wellbeing. The effects may include feelings of fragmentation, isolation and fear; this may also be a powerful cause of distress and psychosomatic illness. This ripples out into the wider world (externalised) as a conflict-driven pattern of negative events and attitudes. These in turn are consumed and then propogated by our mainstream media, where good news is no news.

The antidote is to immerse ourselves in dreaming-related activities (focus) and to associate more with like-minded people (resonance).

Next : Britain's Mystery Schools