Reflection on Culture: The Megaliths, Ceremonial Weapons & The Sanctity of Death

The megaliths stand as the last remnants of an entire spectrum of arts (dance, music, etc…) about which we know very little. I wonder what stories the Neolithic people told and what songs they sang, and how that would correlate to the production of these megaliths. It seems to be a recurring motif in history, that all the different mediums of the arts complement one another. For example, the characters and gods of the Greek pantheon that we find painted on pottery also appeared on stage in the great tragedies. Though we can glimpse the stage production from what remains preserved to us in writing, we cannot fully experience the art of Greek theatre since so much of the show depended upon sets and stage directions not written down. Based on the prevalence of megaliths at Morbihan and this emphasis on ‘permanence’, I think it is reasonable to suppose that the Neolithic peoples were skilled in many other arts. In particular, I think their storytellers must have come up with legends that, if we still had today, might rival that of Homer and Virgil.

Also interesting to note are the discoveries of the “formal axes”, weapons often made oversize and of fine material but not used for the typical purposes of chopping wood or warfare. I consider it an interesting find because the phenomenon is not limited to the Neolithic age. What is it in the human psyche that drives us to take weapons of power and death (or any object of utility for that matter), and sanctify them, setting them apart from every-day use? What does it mean for a weapon to pass from use to consecration? Is it just that the weapon became outdated by newer technology (i.e. sabers in the U.S. military)? On the contrary, the presence of precious stones/metals in the construction of the weapons at Morbihan denotes the intentionality of the Neolithic peoples—these weapons were never used in battler nor were they ever intended for that use. The inherent purpose of the “formal ax” is aesthetic and symbolic. Of what exactly, we cannot be sure, though often as it appears in other cultures, the weapon serves as a symbol for authority and power. For example, the use of weapons ceremonially to connote power appears in the Western tradition of investiture (including that of knights, kings and emperors). Yet, the sword does not merely suggest a transferal of authority from one man to another, though that is the obvious case. On a deeper level, the sword, as an instrument of death, also alludes to the passage of the spirit from life to death, and thereby the sanctity of that passage (and for the invested knight, the responsibility of protecting that passage!). It is no wonder then that we find both megalithic tombstones and ceremonial weapons from the Neolithic Era. The Neolithic peoples considered Death, not as superstition, but as consecration.

I suppose people were not all that different then than we are today. Consider the most prominent ceremonial weapon in all of Western society today: the cross. Originally an instrument of torture and punishment, it now stands as a symbol of victory and salvation, the bridge between life and death.

“Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, “I will not hit you if you do not hit me”; there is no trace of such a transaction. There is a trace of both men having said, “We must not hit each other in the holy place.” They gained their morality by guarding their religion. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found they had become courageous. They did not cultivate cleanliness. They purified themselves for the altar, and found that they were clean…Anarchy was evil because it endangered the sanctity. And only when they made a holy day for God did they find they had made a holiday for men.” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy “Chapter 5”)

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