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The Best in Conservative Writing, Pt. 2

May 5, 2021

The conservative intellectual community is in a building mode due to exclusion from university employment, the decline in print media and a century of “Progressive” domination of American culture. All those college graduates indoctrinated to think Politically Correct thoughts are having an effect on political culture.

Recovery may take twenty-five years to mature, if we assume that our foreign enemies do not take advantage of our moral and spiritual decline. But even now some bright lights are still visible and shining bright.

They are Gerald Russello at the University Bookman and Allen Mendenhall at Troy University Law School. Russello a practicing attorney has a good eye for new insights and features them at the Kirk Center’s University Bookman.

Mendenhall is an attorney, but so broad in his interests that I look forward to his posts at his Facebook Page.

Journals I never knew existed are featured by Mendenhall and reveal important aspects of American culture. He is also a Trustee of the Philadelphia Society that once was a place where the “Greats” of conservative scholarship gathered. But that was in 1965-75.

That too was long ago.

Yet a third light shines from far away Australia.

Brendan Purcell writes on so many areas of intellectual culture that it is hard to keep track of his many interests, but his research about one of Ireland’s biggest Neolithic monuments interests me. He writes that “luckily Ireland wasn’t farmed as intensively as mainland Europe and some folk were superstitious about messing up these ancient sites.”

            “I would like to explore some symbolizations of early human experience, taking an example which lies rather near to hand. Ireland has been inhabited from about 7,500 BC, very shortly after the end of the last Ice Age, according to recent discoveries at Mount Sandel (Derry), Carrowmore (Sligo), Lough Boora (Offaly) and Randelstown (Meath). Some 4,000 years later the northern half of the country was inhabited by the Neolithic-A people, well-organized agriculturists and stockbreeders with comfortable cottage-sized dwellings, whose (court) tombs are almost completely undecorated.[1] However, it was the people of the Boyne Culture, coming perhaps from Brittany towards the end of the fourth millennium BC, whose four major cemeteries, at Newgrange and Lough Crew in Meath, and at Carrowkeel and Carrowmore in Sligo, signal a remarkably deep expression of a Neolithic quest for attunement with the order of the cosmos. The Boyne people belonged to a Far Western European neolithic civilization which extended from Iberia, Brittany and Britain to Denmark and Sweden. Yet they transformed and expanded their spiritual and artistic heritage with a controlled freedom which has produced one of the most original and exciting bodies of prehistoric symbolism extant in the history of archaic humankind. Michael Herity has noted that their artistic richness remained unequalled in Ireland until the coming of the Celts some 1,500 years later: ‘Significantly it was the Celts who showed their appreciation of this culture by weaving their own mythical recon­struction around it.’ (1974, 185)[2]

            “If we can presume that the three mounds of New Grange, Knowth and Dowth, now dated at c.3200 BC, constitute the deepest expression of the Boyne people’s search for the mystery of their existence, we have to ask ourselves how we can go in search of their search. For their history, since they belonged to the same family of humankind as we do, is a piece of our own history, even if we are separated by over five thousand years. Whatever  wisdom they achieved through their symbols and rites is a development and achievement for our humanity too. Seán Ó Ríordáin quoted a nineteenth century archaeologist’s response to seeing the stone circles at Lough Gur:  ‘What marvellous manuscripts if we could only read them.’ (1979, 28)  Is there any way we can make Newgrange’s illuminated manuscripts of finite stone transparent for the transfinite divine-cosmic reality which engendered them?

            “In fact, the past forty years have brought about a completely changed situation with regard to our possible grasp of the symbols of Newgrange which still beckon to us across five millennia. Four factors have contributed to this. Thanks to the magnificent work of Michael O’Kelly on New Grange and of George Eogan on Knowth, the most basic requirement for understanding these expressions of neolithic ex­perience, their excavation and restoration, has been largely achieved.[3] Secondly there has been the discovery by Alexander Thom, Gerald Hawkins and others that many sites in Brittany, England and Scotland were deliberately constructed from 3,500 BC to 1,500 BC in astonish­ingly accurate alignments with specific solar and lunar positions. (cf. Wood, 1978) Michael O’Kelly’s discovery of the solar alignment of New Grange in 1969 indicates the relevance of this second level of mathematical and astronomical archaeology to the Irish sites as well. A third level in the understanding of Newgrange has been made possible by a remarkable advance in the study of archaic symbols and the experiences which en­gender them. Particularly relevant are Marie König‘s exploration of the late palaeolithic (30,000 to 10,000 BC), mesolithic (10,000 to 4,000 BC) and neolithic (4,000 to 1,000 BC) symbols, (1973, 1980) along with Mircea Eliade‘s examination of neolithic and post-neolithic archaic cultures. (1971, 1979) Finally, Eric Voegelin‘s Order and History has put the study of archaic experience and symbolization on a completely new basis by placing it in the context of a range of equivalent answers—cosmological, philosophical and revelational—to the constant question arising throughout history regarding the mystery of existence. Since the first, archaeological level, is being documented, and the hard work of measurement and correlation re­quired for the second, mathematical and astronomical level, is only beginning, the present essay will attempt an elucidation of the depth-experience of existence still expressed through symbols and silent rite at the Bend of the Boyne in terms of the revolution in understanding of archaic symbols and their underlying cosmology.

Newgrange on morning of Dec 21st

            “This elucidation, which has the character of an extended inter­pretative hypothesis, will examine five preliminary groupings of Boyne Culture symbols. Drawing on the categories employed by König, we will discuss Newgrange in terms of its symbolization of place, of time, of partnership between place and time, of the whole, and of story.[4]  Because of the wealth of symbols to be examined, this quite preliminary presentation will resemble a neolithic ‘dictionary’ of particular symbols, or a neolithic ‘grammar’ of specific usages and symbol-combinations. However, of any symbols of the mystery of existence it can be said that ‘their meaning can be understood only if they evoke, and through evocation reconstitute, the engendering reality’ (Voegelin, 1990b, 53) in the interpreter, in this case of the Irish neolithic vision of existence. All an exploration of this sort can do, with the help of the interpretative context drawn principally from König, Eliade and Voegelin, is to help the interpreter a little on the upward path towards reconstituting in himself or herself the spiritual outburst which gave rise to Newgrange.

[1] For some recent discoveries, cf. Woodman, 1981. On the general background, cf. Herity and Eogan, Ireland in Prehistory, 1977, and Herity, Irish Passage Graves, 1974.

[2] The Celts,1970, refers to the continuity of cult and myth from neolithic to Celtic cultures both on mainland Europe  (164) and in Ireland (173).

[3] Cf. C.O’Kelly, Illustrated Guide to Newgrange, 1978; the definitive study is M. O’Kelly’s Newgrange, 1982. (The convention by which the whole Boyne Valley complex is referred to as Newgrange, while New Grange designates one of the tumuli, will be followed here.) For Knowth, cf. Eogan, 1968; 1974; Excavations at Knowth 1, 1984; Knowth and the Passage Tombs of Ireland, 1986. Dowth still awaits excavation.

 [4] How is it possible to interpret symbols for which there are no written documents? C. O’Kelly, in her monograph, Passage-Grave Art in the Boyne Valley, 1975, 13, remarks that ‘one has become suspicious of postulating expediency in explanation of any feature of the Newgrange tumulus because it is not a characteristic normally to be associated with it. Up to the present our experience has been that every feature, structural, architectural, etc., was carefully thought out.’ Our working hypothesis is that Newgrange is the deepest expression of the Boyne people’s quest for attunement with divine-cosmic reality. Given that presupposition of maxi­mal significance, a comment of Voegelin‘s with regard to the interpretation of the so-called ‘fragments’ of Heraclitus seems apposite: ‘As a matter of principle, whenever I must decide between two interpretations which both can be supported philologically I prefer the profounder to the flatter meaning.’ (Voegelin, 1964a, 228n.) What this means in practice is that, faced with a symbol or group of symbols at Newgrange, we draw on whatever archaic experiences and symbolizations are available which are possibly equivalent to those we are seeking to understand.  In fact, the range of archaic symbolizations of experience is by no means unlimited, and once it is accepted that the Boyne people, whatever their unique con­tributions to human history, belong to the same humankind that has dev­eloped its self-understanding and expression over some 40,000 years, a com­parative method which proceeds cautiously and imaginatively seems the most justifiable in the circumstances. While no breakthrough (such as the Landa Relaçion has made possible for the Mayan glyphs) could occur, the wealth of apparently calendrical detail on the Knowth stones may lead to a verifiable interpretation of purely calendrical symbols there (cf. Morley, An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs, 1975 and The Maya, Coe, 1975, ch.8.)

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