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Cosmovision and metaphor: monsters and shamans in Gallo-British cult-expression

  • Miranda Aldhouse Green (a1)

Abstract

The repertoire of cult-iconography produced in Gaul and Britain during the Iron Age and Roman periods contains a group of images that are a blend of human and animal forms. Such pieces are generally interpreted as depictions of divinities, but while it remains probable that they are expressive of cult perceptions, there is a need to re-evaluate their function and identity. The hybridity of the images suggests meanings associated with boundary-crossing, risk and the challenge to ‘normative’ concepts. It is argued here that such contradictive and liminal representations might be identified with transgression between earthworld and spiritworld, and that monstrous images perhaps express the identity of individuals who, within the context of ritual practice, habitually ‘moved’ between worlds, by means of trance and altered states of consciousness. It may be that, in the context of Gallo-British cosmologies, images with antler-head-dresses, horns or other animal attributes should be identified as shamans rather than as gods.

Le répertoire iconographique rituel de la Gaule et de la Grande Bretagne durant l'âge du fer et les périodes romaines contient un groupe d'images qui sont un mélange de formes humaines et animales. Ces pièces sont généralement décrites comme représentations divines. Or, bien qu'il reste probable qu'elles expriment des perceptions de culte, il faut réévaluer leur fonction de même que leur identité. L'hybridité des images suggère des interprétations associées à un passage de frontières, à la prise de risques et à un défi des concepts ‘normatifs’. Il est soutenu ici que ces représentations si contradictoires et liminales pourraient être identifiées avec la transgression entre le monde réel et le monde des esprits, et que ces images monstrueuses exprimeraient peutêtre l'identité d'individus se déplaçant habituellement entre ces mondes, à l'aide de la trance ou d'autres changements de conscience, dans un contexte rituel. Peut-être faudra-t-il, dans la cosmologie Gallo-Britannique, interpréter les représentations de coiffes à ramures, de cornes et autres attributs animals comme images de chamans plutôt que de dieux.

Zusammenfassung

Das Repertoire der kultischen Ikonographie, das während der Eisenzeit und der Römischen Periode in Gallien und Britannien produziert wurde, beenhaltet eine Gruppe von Bildern, die eine Mischung aus menschlichen und zoomorphen Formen darstellen. Solche Stücke werden allgemein als Darstellungen von Göttern interpretiert, doch gibt es – obwohl es nach wie vor wahrscheinlich ist, daß sie Ausdrucksformen kultischer Wahrnehmung sind – Gründe, ihre Funktion und Identität neu zu bewerten. Die Mischformen in den Darstellungen legen Bedeutungen nahe, die mit dem Überschreiten von Grenzen und Risiko verbunden sind und ‘normative’ Konzepte in Frage stellen. Es wird dargelegt, daß solche widersprüchlichen und grenzhaften Erscheinungen mit dem Übergang zwischen der irdischen Welt und der Geisterwelt erklärt werden könnten, und daß monströse Abbildungen möglicherweise die Identität derjenigen Individuen ausdrücken sollen, die sich innerhalb ritueller Praktiken durch Trance und anderen Bewußtseinsebenen gewohnheitsmäßig zwischen den Welten ‘bewegt’ haben. Es könnte sein, daß im Kontext gallo-britischer Kosmologien Darstellungen mit Hirschgeweih-Kopfschmuck, Hörnern und anderen Tierattributen eher als Schamanen statt als Götter identifiziert werden sollten.

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