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Posts Tagged ‘celtic art’

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Sky Boat of the Durotriges

There now, let them rise up: the dark voices, the light voices,
The feathered, the fervid, the iron road of truth is a road we must go down
And the boat of morning and the waters of night.
We are three of indeterminate form:
Too fast, too patient, too vast to keep a single shape.
We are three, is all you need to know, the indicator of splendour.
They see us who know us, they know us who see us.
We glide on shadowed moments, in dreaming time,
On pools of blood and pools of passion.
Words that approach silence ornament us.
They say it is a boat, a barque, but it wavers as a reflection does,
As a path in shimmering summer air, as firelight in a drunken hall.
For we ride beyond the waves of light, on photonic tides,
A boat that is not a boat. A promise scratched on stone.
There are three, and that is all you need to know:
The door, the lock, the key.
A boat of gold riding endless, sparkling darkness.

The Durotriges were an Iron Age Celtic tribal group in the South of England centred on what is now the County of Dorset. They produced coins of silver and gold, often with similar designs. They are abstracted and difficult to read, though they would have been easily read by those familiar with the imagery at the time. Celtic coin imagery follows the key design features of the Mediterranean prototypes, but always playfully morphs them to subvert the message or to ‘own’ the message as part of tribal identity. The Durotriges were seafarers, familiar with the estuaries and rivers of the Dorset and Hampshire coasts. This design ultimately derives from the main features of a profile head (crown/hair, eye,nose,lips) but is usually seen as a boat of some kind with three occupants. In most versions of the design the three beings have the same characteristic shapes, suggesting they are three specific and distinct characters, that might be read as male, female amd child. The fact that there are three is a clear indication of sacredness, if not divinity. Whenever groups of three appear in Celtic art, supernatural power is signified. At th moment I am working on a series of sculptures derived from this image, and so now and then new possibilitis of interpretation arise. Of which this is one.

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SNAKE SPIRAL TORC

We slide spiraling
Ferociously nonchalant
Eyes on fire, laughing.

The tumble of sun on sun
The silk whisper, pale moonlight
Equations piled up,
The footprints marking time,
Precise dancers through space.

A knot upon hillsides,
A marching shadow in the valley.
Enchained to the motion,
Slave of raw power, sudden beauty.

This is our sign.
That we dance the dance
Between dusk and dawn
According to the paths before us.

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A continuation of my sporadic project to re-introduce Iron Age Celtic imagery and world-view into the world art vocabulary and other grandiose schemes…..

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If you look at the white pattern above, the peltas can be seen at six, ten and two o-clock, they resemble cross-sections of mushrooms.

1
TORC TALK (PELTA MOTIF)

Well, it was a long time ago that I covered Celtic Art in Art History, and I was never particularly happy with the name labels often given to Celtic motifs, so I suppose confusing a pelta with a trumpet spiral is to be a little expected (particularly when one can be made up of elements of the other). Nonetheless ,that error was mine. As I was playing with the comma-like form of the magatama it morphed into the cresent-like, arced, spiral-ended, mushroom cross-section known as a ‘pelta’.

This name, ‘pelta’ comes from a type of light shield used by the Greeks and Romans, deriving from an original used in Thrace. This itself tells us more about the natural territory and training of Classicalocentric art historians than about the direct connections between a Classical object and a Celtic motif. Look at the prevalent lines in any Early Celtic design and there is a predominance of curvilinear and vegetal forms. Add to that a predeliction for mirroring, reflection and interaction between foreground and background patterns and it is easy to see ‘pelta-like’ forms sprouting up in abundance. The logic of associating the ‘pelta’ motif with a meaning of ‘shield’ is stretched when it can so so much more easily be read as ‘tree’, ‘leaf’, ‘simplified palmette’, ‘reflected crescent moons’ or ‘horns’. In some Classically rendered and stylised imagery, this shape may indeed refer to a martial attribute. But to carry that meaning over onto a similar looking, purely Celtic motif may be far too simplistic, or just simply, inaccurate.

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What drew me in the first place to look again at the pelta motif was the realisation that it, or its negative shape, closely echoes the shape of the neck collar or ‘torc’, a connection that I am not sure has been noticed before. Looking at a lot of Celtic art, and especially redrawing the imagery, one comes to understand the importance of what is not there – negative space, void, background….

2
TORC TALK- (FIRST THEN)

First then
There is no object,
No thing that does not trawl
A train of intent and opinion,
That does not feel,
Draw with it more of itself
From the invisible.
Nothing that does not speak.
(if you hear nothing but silence, go within it, find its shape and you shall here the words come in and out, for nothing, no thing is voiceless)

Nothing
That has not been born
From a before.
Everything
Has been born
From something else.
Nothing not jealous of its edges. Nothing that will not melt and merge one day into becoming somewhere else. Nothing, in essence, that does not hunger to remain, that does not hunger and feed.

Where to start? It makes no matter where you start. Simply begin. The road is twist and dip but leads to the same shining place…

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3
FOR THE GODS ALONE

Beauty is for the gods alone.
This gold – no use for plough or warrior,
No use, no use on Earth.
Beauty belongs to the gods,
And to those who talk to them,
To those who speak to them,
To those who belong to them.

A torc, an open ring of twisted wire, often gold, with terminals, cast and decorated finials. Worn as a neck ring. Wires, strings, ropes, woven light, woven and woven, golden rope to tie the soul, to show adherence, obedience, obeisance,obligation to the spirits….

A circle not a circle, an arc, a passage of time, a record of space.
A perforation, the head pushed through
To the airs of heaven,
Upper world,
A division of head from body,
No longer just human:
Owned, illuminated,
Ardour, radiant.
The weight of it:
Not easy to ignore,
It is meaning, a glow..

If the pelta symbol is the negative space of the torc- its contained space – then the pelta occupies the same space as the head. Pelta is head. Head is home of spirit. Pelta is spirit. In some coins of the tribes of Brittany the horse rider’s heads have transmuted into pelta shapes.

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4
HORIZON’S EDGE

I am the passage of the sun
From dawn to dusk
A woven line of light
To the top of heaven,
To the horizon’s edge.

I am the river of night,
Golden river underground
From dusk to dawn,
A gold thread
Through ancestors’ bones.

Torc is map, halo, sun glow.
A mirror moon, empty,
Crescent, full, crescent,
Empty. Woven around
Each other, silver, gold,
Day, night, copulated,
Seeded…

5
ENSOULED

Seed of the sun
Spilt at sunset
Mated with earth,
Gathered up, gathered up,
Cold made hot once more,
Melted, breathed upon,
Revived, ensouled,
Sung to, given song,
Given name, given sinew,
Given nerve, wound about.
Gold, giver of glory,
Animated, it whispers,
All the time, it whispers.

Should you know its spells
You will prosper,
Should you know its songs
You will be victorious,
Should you know its name,
You shall be returned home
Golden and ever-young.
For it has no end
And its wearer shall remain.
Its giver shall be blessed,
And blessed the receiver.

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So how should one receive a torc? Many images show the torc being held in the hand. It is held at the centre, midway between the terminals. Displayed, it is held with open ends upwards toward heaven, like a cup to receive the blessings from above. It is shown offered in the same way, with open end towards the recipient. Is it taken possession of by the two hands grasping the finials? Does the giver carefully hold the ring so that the receiver can echo the hold on the opposite side, both joined in obligation for a moment,and then forever, by that golden link, like the passing of a goblet? Is the name whispered? The promise named? The duty proclaimed? In that moment one and one become roped, twisted, bound together, charged with divine power…

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And as to the making: that wire beaten, stretched, thin and thinner. Taken with others, woven, wound, round, wrapped, mated, united. What spells added, what songs, what promises, what life, what given birth to. ( There are images of swords with dragon spirit beings attached -their sharp souls, snake fast, embedded, the metal a home for other life, given honour, given flesh food). Do the finials give face and eyes to the embedded spirit? Are they of one kind? Are they many? Are they moulded each to each, to be hunted out like fast hounds scent their masters, bound by similarity of spirit?

Here shall be a list,
A reckoning,
A call of names,
A summoning of spirits:

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THE GIVING OF NAMES ( continued, part three)

5
CANTIACI

We are the people of the corner lands
The ones dwelling at the edge,
Catching the first of the sun.
Rippling out into the waters
The ribbon ocean wrapped.
White walls our fortresses.
White walls and long pebble walls,
Walls of rock, walls of water.
First home is our home,
First land is our land,
Nooked, swathed, sun-warmed
Honeyed. A hum of bees
In the woodland,
A hum of birds at roost.
Harboured, wave-rocked,
Sea-light our hair, sea-bright
Our faces. Wind-cradled.
The gulls on the tide,
The rushes hiss rippled light.
The forests silent now,
The deer move out to graze
In twilight. Our moon scythe,
Grains of stars, ripe, fall
To our winnowing.

6
CORNOVII

The horned ones
Gather together.
The delicate, fierce ones
Tree-headed, call
Into the dawn air.
A clash of antler,
A clash of bone on bone,
The learned dance, the wild dance.
Sap-sweet, Spring’s blood
As it rises. An arc of lust,
A braying horn, a mighty host.
Dappled, we move in silence.
One by one from shade to sunlit pool,
Grazing, given grace, guardians
Of the deep wood. Stepping light,
A crown upon us, a host of spears,
Scattered glory of light,
We emerge, we disappear,
Inviolable.

( the Cantiaci give their name to the county of Kent, in the SE of England. The name means ” peoples of the corner land”. The Cornovii occupied the middle west of England, towards what is now the borders of Wales. They are one of many tribal peoples who name derives from something along the lines of “the horned ones” or “people of the horned one”. In Staffordshire the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is still performed, where the dancers wear caps attached with sets of deer antlers.)

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