Today marks the first day in one of our greatest annual cultural events: the winter solstice. From now until the 25th, the sun will appear to hesitate before it once again begins to climb into the sky. That of course, is the reason so many solar deities have their birthday on the 25th—Mithras, Dionysus and Christ being but three.
But what you may not know is that while these three ‘dying and rising’ gods, every one of them an agricultural deity, are clearly men, the very first was not; she was a woman.
The earliest version I have found is in the Sumerian tale of the goddess Sul or Sud. This is not a Sumerian name and it’s unclear where she came from, but that doesn’t matter. As befits a goddess, Sul was staggeringly beautiful and at the peak of her fertility; she knew it was time for her to choose a partner.
Well they do this every solstice, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Personally I find the excessive emphasis on consumption, and the unstated presumption that one will go into debt to buy presents one doesn’t want or need to make other people conned into the same bollocks feel a bit better, a pile of crap. For want of a better word.
I first read about the Songlines in the late Bruce Chatwyn’s eponymous book, and even then the concept fascinated me. The Songlines are massively complex, but essentially devolve to the creation mythology of the Aboriginal Australians. In this, every animal had an anthropomorphic first ancestor—so there was Kangaroo-Man, Koala-Man, Lizard-Man and so on. Each human tribe is also derived from one of those ancestors. In the dawn of time, these ancestors walked through the world, literally singing it into existence.
I’m sometimes asked if I don’t feel that I am missing out, by not believing in ‘something greater’. It’s a valid question and actually one that I think all atheists should ask themselves. But the answer, at least for me, might also be of interest to others.
Yes I am part of something greater, in a very real and immediate sense. It’s not so much a question of believing but of accepting the evidence in front of me. I am part of the Earth. The Earth is not just a core of molten iron covered in a crust of rock and water, with an outer gaseous atmosphere, though it is these things. It is a living system, an entity. And I am—we are all—part of that entity.
French Onion Soup! is here at last!!!! My hilarious, quirky, must-read book about a crazy Scotsman living the French Dream with his family, is at last available as both a print and e-book. Yaaay! You can buy it HERE on Amazon.co.uk
It’s a striking thought that civilisation evolved here on Earth only 7,000 years ago. Since then, humans have achieved many really incredible things. But even in terms of our own—mostly unwritten—history, 7,000 years is almost insignificant; it’s less than 4 % of the time Homo sapiens, the storytelling ape, has existed.
Well, it’s the Fifth of November; Samhain (that’s pronounced sow-en) is very much upon us and winter, that bane of my life, is on the way. I’m already lighting the stove in the evening now, and of course fire is important in these Celtic lands. It’s the season of the Fire Festival, that ancient Pagan ritual. (Cheerfully adopted by the Christians, of course.)
Samhain was the Celtic version; it has equivalents all over the world. The Celtic year was divided in two ways, one solar and the other lunar. The Celts weren’t daft (well, not as daft as some I can think of) and they knew damn fine that lunar calendars are not consistent; a twelve-month lunar year and the solar one are different in length, since a lunar month is 29.5 days. This adds up to only 354 days in a 12-month year, which means that relying on it is hopeless as far as the seasons are concerned. And for an agrarian people like the Celts, the seasons were really important.
I grew up in a world where photography, especially monochrome photography, was synonymous with ‘truth’. That was never strictly accurate, of course, and as a photographer I knew the extent to which the truth can be manipulated. Nevertheless, as evidenced by the incredible work we saw every day in the newspapers of the 60s, which I consumed with passion while still at school, a photograph was regarded as an equivalent to reality; it was not just a representation of truth, but an affirmation of it.
“Look,’ it said, ‘This is a true thing; I stand witness to that.’ Even today, when PhotoShop has put tricks of the trade that I spent years learning at the click of an amateur’s mouse, photographs brook no argument. The leaves really were that green, the sunset that orange, the woman so perfect. Yet perfect beauty was never in the sorcery of the darkroom or the airbrush artist’s hand, nor is it in the magic of digital manipulation; real beauty is actually real. It needs no PhotoShopping or dastardly manipulation, only to be seen and known, and recorded.
The other part of my life, however, is very different from the ascetic artist whose delight is in the expression of pure form or idea. As a musician, I am by definition an entertainer. And my professional photographic career has been mainly in Photojournalism. Indeed, long before I immersed myself in Weston and Brandt I was mainlining Cartier-Bresson and Don McCullin. Continue reading The Naked Truth→
Non-Politically Correct Writing and Photography by Rod Fleming and Guests