Archive for the ‘fertility cult’ Category

Old books,old stones   1 comment

We’re feeling the pinch: economic downturn, petrol-price upturn – it means we have to plan our trips out with care.

So we have waited for a bright clear day, and we hope to visit the big well-known menhir of our region at Malves, then on to the little unknown menhir at Guitard – and thence up the road to the neighbouring ‘Book Village’ of Montolieu (our little Hay-on-Wye).

We have a few mega-megaliths in the Aude; two of the longest passage-graves in southern Europe (Morrel das Fadas at Pépieux and Saint-Eugène at Laure), and one of the tallest menhirs (Counozouls). The standing-stone at Malves-en-Minervois is big at 5 metres, and has been well-photographed:

It is undeniably impressive. But it is mute. It is a relic of something, but it is not a ruin. Some find nodes of power in such stones, some find sexual atmospherics.

But while they may be battered or defaced – they still are not ‘ruins’ of anything: they just remain, standing mute, enigmatic.

Dolmens, on the other hand, are ruins. As burial places, they were purposeful – in a way that we can posit questions about symbolism and service, or hygiene and heirarchy; they are containers of us and our rotting remains. Standing stones do not contain any of our pitiable remanents or belongings. They simply hold meaning – to which we cannot gain access.

I tread around them all – big stones or small – with wariness. Aware that some may contain ‘big meanings’, while others are but small territorial markers. These lesser stones intrigue me as much as the big ones: they may demarcate neolithic territories. They certainly form part of modern-day France, since so many communal boundaries run through them. Did mediaeval France take its border-markers from those immuable objects in the landscape? Is much of France shaped by the land-claims of Neolithic clans?

The little ‘menhir de Guitard’ was shown to me by the elderly and aimiable occupier of the farm. He knows it as “la borne entre Guitard et ‘le petit Versailles'” – to him it has simply been the land-mark between two estates.

– – Or are these ‘red-indian totem-poles’ around which fertility ceremonies were practiced (in a time – the Bronze Age – when mortality rates were decimating the tribes)?

Or are they both? Were stones, large and small, used for a wide variety of purposes: geographical and ceremonial?

[More photos & info on the Malves menhir Page, and the Guitard menhir Page]

Addendum

It’s not often that a poem gets written about a menhir – let alone a little one like Guitard – and so I should not let pass the opportunity to introduce readers to this one, by Yves Le Pestipon, a fellow ‘mégalithomane‘. It appears on his group website called L’Astrée, and the poem is prefaced by an explanation ‘Pourquoi chercher des mégalithes’ – with which I wholeheartedly agree.

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La Pierre Replantée   Leave a comment

Without Quid I would never have found many of these places here in my region. Every village – and France is essentially a network of villages – has a dossier listing its vital statistics and attributes. La Mairie collects the data and sends it to Paris, whence it is diffused back to the Nation. Decade upon decade – possibly since Napoleon began pulling France into a coherent unity – facts accrete. Nothing is altered or thrown away: it is all on file. Real life, however, tends to subvert the system: place-names change through metathesis [a sound change that alters the order of phonemes in a word] or the persistence or resurgence of regional dialect. Cartographers register some changes – and ignore others. Things do get lost. Farmers alter the landscape, burying or unearthing the past. Road-builders bulldoze the past into a ditch. Which is where I found this massive standing stone yesterday.

pierre plantee olonzac

For more info and photos – go to La Pierre Plantée Olonzac Page.

Sacred Stones and Holy Water, at Centeilles   Leave a comment

In the XIII century, (some texts say the XII century) La Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Centeilles was built close to the site of a romanesque chapel, or of a Roman villa. Throughout the Middle Ages Centeilles was the centre of a thriving community on the trail between plain and mountain and was the focus of an important fair and market on 25th and 26th March. It was also a centre of pilgrimage for Ascension Day, with its Procession of the Rogations, and Assumption Day.

The first fresco to face the weary pilgrim was that of St. Christopher, patron saint of travellers.

La Révolution put an end to this tradition – the human population deserted it, and it was used as a barn. For the next one hundred years it was occupied by sheep. It was sold in 1960, for 500 francs. to the Diosese of Narbonne who later handed it over to Les Amis de Centailles, an association that undertook its repair and upkeep.

The early christian church had not chosen this place at random – it was a site of sacred significance since the earliest times. For wherever Our Lady has been installed and adored it is certain that she replaced a pre-christian animist or fertility cult – usually of Cybele, or Potnia Theron, the Queen of the Animals – one of the myriad names of the Mother Goddess.

For more photos and info- see the Chapelle de Centeilles Page

man-stone and woman-cave   Leave a comment

Drive to Lagrasse and spend a morning there: ‘L’un des plus beaux villages de France’ with an abbey rebuilt by Nimphridius under Charlemagne in 779. It was the temporal and spiritual centre of all Languedoc for many centuries, holding sway from Albi to Zaragoza. Then drive out on the D3, turning left to Tournissan. The lower menhir is on the left before the village. Turn right in the village for Talairan and at the first juntion go right on a metalled lane for 2km. The upper menhir stands atop a small hill – and possibly a tumulus – on the right about 100 metres after the tarmac ends. On the IGN map its location is 2. 38′ 37″ E , 43. 4′ 12″ N. or DD 2.643611 E 43.070000 N

Down here in the Aude we are not over-burdened with standing-stones. Passage-graves R Us – but Pierres Droites? Or Plantées? We have a few – and some of them among the biggest – but this is not Tall Stone Country.

All the more surprising then to find two menhirs in the one small valley. The better known one stands in the valley bottom – unusual enough – and by the roadside, rather than a more isolated spot. The valley is small and this route must have been the only way out, as it leads east between two hills towards the river Orbieu and Lagrasse.

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This lesser known menhir stands on a small hill, and is directly due south of the first. There is a path kept clear all the way up the hill to it. Neither menhirs are marked on any map. However they are both in full sight of the Le Roc Troué – the Holed Rock which is marked and is situated at 43.089444 N 2.664166 E . It is a large and dramatic cavern high up in the face of a prominent rock outcrop.

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In the foreground is one of the wells [with modern surround] and diectly behind is Le Roc.

The valley has other remarkable features: in line with the two menhirs, due north, is another rock outcrop – this time distinguished by its strong red colouring. There is a captured spring at this place called Terre Rouge. Other wells can be seen high up above the valley floor in the middle of fields – attesting to an unusual water-table. Such abundance of water and such rich oxide soil make this valley very fertile.

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Terre Rouge in middle distance – with Alaric mountain behind.

Less than a mile from the two menhirs is a place called Les Morts : The Dead. At the summit of a small hillock, among trees and scrub is a tomb. Monks of the Middle Ages lived in a Priory close by and in Lagrasse, and the entire valley would have been worked by them. It is unusual to find a solitary tomb, set apart like this.

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The stone stands 2.5 metres tall with its flat faces roughly east & west. It ‘points’ north at 30 degrees, straight at the lower menhir.

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I came to hear about this beautiful stone from a friend. She had been told about it by a sourcier. Not a wizard – this is the local man who locates water for farmers and vignerons. He also believes in ley-lines and fertility stones . . . And for those women who cannot conceive when they wish, he suggests visits to this menhir. My friend wanted a baby, and visited the stone often. It is in a beautiful place, in a beautiful valley. The existence of a well-trodden path is significant.

Elsewhere in Europe stones were toppled or broken by the Catholic church in their zeal to eradicate traces of former beliefs. But you can’t erase a vast gaping hole in a cliff, and you can’t stop women wanting children. And so perhaps they let stand a ‘pagan’ stone or two, thinking “well, if the women believe in it, and if it helps bring more babies . . . ”

The name of the water-diviner, le sourcier ? Labitte. It is the word for the male appendage.

a weekend in the country   Leave a comment

We think we live in the country. That is until we leave our little village on the plain and venture 40 minutes south into Les Hautes Corbières, to stay with friends in a renovated bergerie in its own valley. Here wild boars outnumber humans ten-to-one, and eagles cruise the thermals.

I was expecting to make a 2 hour trek, following the excellent guide to ‘Dolmens et Menhirs en Languedoc et Roussillon’ by Bruno Marc. It turned out that the dolmen de la Porteille was just 45 minutes from the house – and though not fully signposted from our end, it was a glorious ramble on yet another sunlit day.

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The bright light almost overwhelms the photos with contrast.

It’s orientation is 245. The coordinates given on the Megalithic Portal put it about 500 metres across the valley to the NE. Using the French GeoPortail.fr site, I make its coordinates 2.35’57” E, 42.59’48” N or in decimal degrees: 2.599166, 42.996666

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This is peering down into what is quite a deep cavity. The stone on the left side seems less an orthostat than a natural flat slab, making this almost a fissure tomb. It measures 3 m. long outside [2 m. inside] and 60 cm. wide inside. It’s 1.5 m. deep.

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The dense maquis conceals the fact that we are on the crest of a ridge with views of holm-oak covered hills all around. But it was no surprise to find that Pic du Canigou, the sacred mountain of the eastern Pyrenees, was also in sight. Developments in prehistoric funerary practice and ceramics came as much from the Iberian south, as from east across the Mediterranean [or from the Alps]. This region was and is a crossroads of cultures.

And it was no surprise either to discover there was a grotte de Matthias not many minutes further down the slope. The conjunction of cave and dolmen is repeated all over the region. A later post will examine this relationship.

deep in the Corbieres   Leave a comment

We have walked around Nitable Roc many times with friends who live just below it. This time, armed with information from a local teacher and a big Maglite, I wanted to explore the tunnel beneath Roc de Fenne Prenz – the rock of the pregnant woman. It’s just visible as a thin column on the right flank of Nitable, lower down, below the last steep cliff.

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The name is corrupt occitan: femna – woman feme – female
prenh – pregnant prensòia – with child

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From certain angles the rock has that form. It lies close to the GR 36 at the most dramatic point where the path skirts the cliff-edge. A tunnel passes right through the cliff, under la Fenne-Prenz. The fertility cult that grew around the rock requires a woman to crawl on hands and knees the 20 metres from west to east, as a ritual of reenactment of the birth-journey, towards the rising sun.

For more photos of the tunnel, and the Gorge – go to the Fenne Prenz page.