Wednesday, November 01, 2006

was newgrange built by protestants ?

was newgrange built by protestants ?

no, seriously. was it ?

you think i must be joking, because the protestant reformation is not yet 500 years old, and newgrange and the other monuments of the boyne valley, are nearer to 5000 years old. but the catholic / protestant split was not arbitrary. it probably ocurred along a previously existing faultline, because that, i believe, is how splits most often occur.

how can we describe a split ? by the way, these ideas which i am putting forward are tentative, and open to revision. your contributions are welcome.

i suggest that a split can be a polarisation, along an axis where there was formerly a spectrum. when the split occurs, intermediate positions become less tenable - you are either 'for us' at one end of the spectrum, or 'against us' at the other.
so there have been splits between roundheads and cavaliers, between republicans and monarchists, between, perhaps, cistercians and benedictines, or between the early 'celtic' church and the ceili de.
note the common thread in these 'reformations' is that the reformers differ in the direction of being more austere, more disciplined, more puritanical - less decorative. more verbal - less visual. more prosaic and 'left hemisphere.'

in ireland we are used to the protestants being in the north, and the catholics being in the south. ask an irish person to explain this, and they will give a political answer - that the protestants were brought in as a deliberate policy of colonisation. that is not an answer, it does not explain the origins of the difference in the outer hebrides, where the political history is the same for all the islands, and yet the protestants are once again in the north, the catholics in the south.

here, the sects seem to follow the pattern of settlement in the islands by peoples of pictish descent (northern) and gaelic descent (southern). these two races or cultures also existed in ireland. when the gaelic irish saint columba went to scotland to meet the king of the picts, he took an irish pict, saint canice (later of kilkenny), as his interpreter.

if the protestant and catholic tendencies in the outer hebrides emerged on racial, or tribal lines, this might confirm modern research that religious leanings are partially hereditary. apparently, among separated (but identical) twins, there is an increased chance that if one sibling tends towards a religious mindset the other one will too.

in the case of islam the religion is not monolithic either. the muslims are divided into 'sunni' and 'shiite'. this is one of the significant divisions of our times, and we should all be better informed about the difference.

i am going to suggest that the sunnis are the protestants of islam, and the shiites the catholics. the sunni characteristics of puritanical and dutiful adherence to the law, look familiar, while the shiites are more into saints and holy persons as intermediaries in matters of healing, into visual imagery and charismatic rituals. the shiites also accord a slightly higher social status to women.

* if i am mistaken in any of these points, i would be happy to be corrected.

i also mention in passing, the disciples of john the baptist - and the disciples of jesus - as yet another example of this spectrum and these sectarian tensions within a religious spectrum.

so back to the original question - where does newgrange come in ?

the religious art of the 'catholic' end of the spectrum is representational, while puritans, protestants in general, and much of islam, are iconoclastic, that is to say - disapproving of visual representation in religious contexts.
many millennia after the cave paintings of lascaux show that a subtle and highly developed representational art has developed, there is not one animal or figure or face in the art of the boyne valley.

so the people of europe paint at an earlier stage, but revert to eschewing all representative art at a later stage. had there been one of those cultural mental flips that we call a 'reformation.' ?
i ask my question again. newgrange is artistically as austere as any sunni mosque or cistercian abbey. could it be that newgrange was built by protestants ?


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