17 March 2014

The painful conversion of King Óengus by Patrick at Cashel

It's (sigh) that time of year again.

The Irish are apparently amused that Americans pay so much attention to this particular day.  Patrick is not such a big deal in Ireland... but Americans hang on to his near-mythic existance for dear life.  Along with cornbeef and cabbage (which is not "traditional Irish fare" but rather a made-special "humble dish" to help identify a special unique "Irish-ness" in America).  

Irish-American visitors in Ireland nowadays expect to see that cabbage dish on an Irish menu, so some tourist restaurants have stooped to add it to the fare.  But don't expect green-dyed bagels in Ireland.  That would way too much for even the most eager-to-please Irish host.  That said, we were generously served an extraordinarily-tasty version of cabbage-potatoes-and-corned-beef by Billy Leen at his home in Tipperary.   (On a spring day much closer to Béltaine.)

All in all, the Irish have understandably-mixed feelings about Patrick and Roman Catholicism in general.  Patrick's forceful conversions and anti-pagan excesses are legion (some say driven by his self-induced anguish... about being homosexually-subservient while captive as a pirate ship's slave boy).

His angers, piques of dissatisfaction and even occasional cruelty match his pleading advocacy for his Christianised Irish converts to the English bishops (who could care less about the "brute" Irish... Catholic or otherwise - in the 5th century those Irish were regularly enslaved into service for Romanised English households). 

Patrick both held women in apparent high regard and yet encouraged misogynistic "moral" rules which rebuked the independence, sexuality and the self-reliance of Irish women. And above all, counseled them to leave men and desires behind by taking nun's vows.

One of the most revealing anecdotes about Patrick's "style" was concocted in part by the biographers who ghost-wrote for Patrick while composing his "Confessions."  This early book posed as the personal diary of this triumphant servant of Christ - conquering and converting Irish chiefs and kings, warriors and peasants, and also sticking his pole repeatedly into Brigid wells to "make them holy" rather than have them remain defiled by local veneration.  His symbolic "rape" of sacred springs is sometimes called "Patricizing" (converting a life-feminine-holy source of water into a "Patrick's Well").

In the "Confessions" Patrick is sanitised and always wins.  And in the case of Óengus, the king of Cashel, Patrick's biographers conjure up their own version of an event whereby Patrick is invited by Oengus to Cashel in order to effect his conversion to Christianity... something for which Óengus was supposedly "quite eager."  During the ceremony Patrick stabs ('tis said "accidentally") Oengus in the foot, whereby the king grimaces but bears up.  It's sometimes referred to as Óengus' "baptism in blood."

Of the few depictions of the "conversion of the King of Cashel" none are so clear in depicting Patrick's seemingly-deliberate stabbing of Óengus' foot as the 13th-century painting in the upper right... in which Patrick smiles broadly at the king while leaning his weight down on the point of his staff, in order to get good penetration.  The stone carving presents the event a bit more matter-of-factly, and the latest (Irish) painting tries to play down the piercing-of-the-foot part by painting the tip of Patrick's crozier rather hazily instead of showing its piercing of Óengus's left foot.

 I've heard that the actual story is rather a BIT more complicated than that.

Óengus mac Nad Froích was a regional king, having command over many tribes scattered particularly to the west and south of Cashel.  He was staunchly anti-Christian and had absolutely no interest in converting.

Patrick, rising to the challenge, went from sub-chief to sub-chief of the surrounding tuaths and convincingly enjoined those chiefs to convert... citing multiple horrors in the afterlife if they did not.  Óengus initially chose to ignore these depredations.

However it came to his attention after the passage of time that all of his sub-chiefs had consented to baptism and were looking to Patrick, rather than Óengus, for direction.  Finally capitulating to this strategy so that he might have back the full loyalty of his tribal chiefs (rather than be marginalised by his own kinsmen) Óengus, after many months of holding-out, consented to baptism.

When Patrick arrived at Cashel he walked accompanied by his usual crosier/walking-staff... which was fitted with a sharp iron point so the traveling evangelist could make his way across untrustworthy turf and over mountain passes.  The entry path up to Cashel's top is quite steep, and he was digging in as he made his way up to and into the main hall of Óengus' walled castle.

Upon seeing Óengus he strode up to him, and at his last step stabbed the crozier's tip directly through Óengus' foot.  It's said that the king winced but otherwise did not register the rebuke - and rebuke it was... for the king's long resistance against conversion.  Looking Óengus directly in the eye, Patrick asked Óengus if he was ready to take Jesus Christ as his "lord and saviour."  Both pretended to ignore the attack on Óengus's foot.   The king assented, Patrick baptised him, and stepped back.  ONLY THEN did Patrick say, "Oh, did I pierce you through the foot?  Why did you not say something?"

And then King Óengus mac Nad Froích dryly answered his well-known reply, "I thought it was part of your religion - to go through that."  Reading well the winds of change, Óengus later provided significant funding to the church, opened a sacristy on the Cashel hilltop, and funded the needs of a number of religious orders (all marginally loyal to himself as a result).  It is rumoured that his wife Eithni was enthusiastically converted, bringing with her the powerful tribe of Laigin of which she was born, and later offering many of her children for service in the Church.

The piercing of Óengus' foot is presented by Patrick's biographers as an unfortunate accident - whereas it is suspected that Patrick's cruel sense of eclesiastical authority led him to stab Óengus that way. 

Patrick is also renowned for deciding (perhaps with help from his Roman Catholic superiors) that the Coptic, Greek and Phoenician libraries of his "subject chiefs and kings" ought to be expurgated of their non-churchly contents, which he deemed to be sinful books of pagan dealings, witchcraft and all things un-Godly. His burnings and otherwise destructions of all pre-Christian writing in Ireland (and his scorn of such) led to widespread allegations that all the Irish were illiterate beasts.

This twisted "spin" about the Irish became set-up for the British genocide of the "sub-human" Irish - providing apparent licence for the British lords, kings and queens to strip the countryside of its best crops and to take its people into slavery either in Britain, or ultimately on their own land as compelled plantation farm hands for remote English landlords.  These were the same Irish who the English lords plundered and viciously killed during Cromwellian times, and allowed later to starve to death rather than "encourage a culture of dependency"- thereby creating the Great Hunger of the 1840's after the Irish mono-cultured subsistence potato died everywhere of blight.

Irish-descended American politician Paul Ryan learned how to adopt that same Brit language as his own rationale for denying supplemental food, health care, educational infrastructure and social care to low-income and unemployed Americans.  "Culture of dependency" and its underlying assumptions about a flawed gene pool... creating problem people... is now part of the foundational myth of the Tea Party and its wealthy donors.   (See this NYTimes op-ed for more details - http://nyti.ms/1kXRe1K )

Patrick is no friend of mine.  I do not celebrate "his day" or his hypothetical "saintly-ness."

30 May 2013

Working HIGH To Pick Up Landscape Features

On the ground at a prehistoric ritual site, we're often only partially conscious of the tiny variations of elevation and vegetation colouring which betray ancient foundation walls, the edges of old ritual pathways or sun-sighting rings hiding just under the turf.

One choice I've had for the past decade has been to "look down" via increasingly detailed satellite imagery.  Without high cost I've sometimes been able to opt-in (as an observer) upon high resolution landscape scans of Ireland that have been ordered up from NASA, EUSat, METEOSat  and other providers by pipeline companies, lumber harvesters and other corporate entities whose purpose was purely economic.

Once I get access to those best-resolution scans I've further enhanced and colour-filtered the portions of landscape which I've walked... bringing out features I suspect, verifying my finds and noticing what other clues lie near where I've felt and found something tangible.

As I was recently made more aware at this year's Rathcroghan Conference in Tulsk, Co. Roscommon (which included a number of presentations on remote imaging for archaeology) we can now also employ sophisticated technologies for archaeology including LIDAR... which can be "tuned" to strip obscuring vegetation from hillsides leaving just the image of terrain and turf; as well as ground-penetrating radar; electromagnetic imaging of earth layers to detect hidden pits, voids, metals, and various strata of water absorption; and better use of multi-point fly-over data collection to assemble 3-D wireframes of physical structures and terrain features.

While there I tested and demoed a somewhat simpler technology - a means to simply "get up above" ground level, at the bird's eye view.  Especially useful during late afternoon and early morning glancing light, even subtly hidden landscape features became quite apparent with the added elevation.

We shipped a collapsed telescoping mast in three sections from the U.S. as well as 15-metre cables equipped with caribiniers, along with tent pegs and (as a non-evasive alternative) water weights that could fill with up to 20 pounds of water.  Our camera is a GoPro Hero3 Black, which not only records to a microSD card but also transmits what it is recording (and accepts commands to stop, start and switch from movie to still mode) to a tablet computer.

For control and visualisation we used an Asus ultra high-definition Android tablet, their Eee TF700.

Once in Ireland we discussed our rig with Gary Dempsey - archaeologist and education director at the Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, immediately adjacent to the Rathcroghan mound complex in County Roscommon... which includes huge burial, family and votive mounds, including one long-attributed to Queen Mabh.

Gary was curious if a barely-perceptible ring in a field within the mound complex was actually distinct enough to warrant inclusion in their list of raths and/or rings.  We thought we could help him out with that.

On a very rainy and windy Sunday afternoon after the conference, Gary and I and two helpers headed over to the location, erected and centred the mast with camera on top... anchored by guy wires and water weights... and then I slowly rotated the mast to survey the entire field at the site chosen by Gary.  The ring was immediately apparent, and it proved to be several concentric rings rather than one single one.  Gary was highly-pleased by the results of the experiment.

We moved the rig to another field to attempt a survey of the immediate area around a cave entrance, with far less dramatic results.  At the end we were all quite soaked and exhausted, but the outcome was extremely gratifying.  Without a tremendous expense and using a portable rig, an archaeological team could get high enough above a site to spot small features and survey the relationship of small variations in terrain.

Our next experiments on forthcoming trips will be to use a quadcopter and the GoPro HD video/still camera (with remote controls)...

"new" concentric ringed mound at Rathcroghan complex (video frame)

instead of an anchored mast.   We have a list of sites I'd like to re-survey, as well as a number of locations to check out for the first time.  Both methods are certainly a great deal less expensive than renting a crane or hiring a single-engined aircraft to fly over.   For the full video, see Vimeo