Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thoughts on the winged man of Uppaakra

Recently, an excellently preserved and exquisitely detailed find from the archaeological site in Uppaakra, Sweden was unearthed. Photographs of the unique artifact reveal a man with a pointed beard and beautiful wings -- which he is grasping with his hands -- and a bird-like fan-tail between his outstretched legs.

Hat tip to Swedish archaeologist Dr. Martin Rundkvist for posting some fantastic images and discussion of the artifact on his blog, Aardvarchaeology (especially for those of us who don't speak Swedish).

Dr. Rundkvist points out that the winged man is unlikely to represent a Christian angel, as the period of its archaeological context predates Christian influence in the area. He notes that Norse mythology does offer the connection of either Freya and her falcon cloak or Weyland the Smith, who was such an accomplished artificer that he was able to fashion wings using the feathers of birds to escape his torment and imprisonment in some of the stories surrounding the episodes of his life.

Dr. Rundkvist finds the Weyland connection to be especially compelling, and it is noteworthy that the authors of Hamlet's Mill spend a good deal of time discussing the importance of smiths such as Weyland in their text. Often, a godlike smith will be described in ancient myth as being lame or crippled in the legs or feet -- the most familiar example to most readers being Hephaestos or Vulcan from Greek or Roman mythology. Weyland the Smith, however, was also lame in his legs, having been deliberately hamstrung by his cruel captor and forced to craft items at his forge for his tormentors. He later escapes by fashioning wings and flying away.

In Hamlet's Mill, as we have discussed many times previously, the thesis is put forward (with extensive supporting evidence from myth around the world) that these myths encode sophisticated astronomical understanding by ancient civilizations, often pertaining to the precession of the equinoxes.

The concept of a creator deity who is lame fits in with the delay in the appearance of Orion (in particular -- a constellation associated with Osiris in ancient Egypt, who was drowned and also mutilated by his brother Set) which is caused by precession. Each year, constellations near the plane of the ecliptic should appear above the horizon for the first time when the earth is in the same spot on its annual orbit. However, due to precession, this annual first appearance is delayed by a tiny amount (by only one degree per 71.6 years). This delay can be metaphorically likened to being "held down below the horizon" (or drowned, as Osiris is drowned), or it can be metaphorically likened to delay due to being hamstrung or lamed in the feet.

Note that Osiris is avenged for the wrongs done to him by his son, Horus -- the falcon god. This suggests a connection to Freya and his falcon suit which Dr. Rundkvist mentions! Weyland is also avenged of his wrongs and rises above his torment in the wings that he forges.

That these Norse and ancient Egyptian myths are parallel and related to precession is discussed by Jane Sellers in her outstanding discussion of the subject in Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt (in which she follows Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend's assertions in Hamlet's Mill, while going further and adding many new insights of her own). She writes:
My neglect in naming Orion forger of a new Mill must be forgiven. He can be likened to the Anglo-Saxon hero, Wayland Smith, described in myths as wearing a shortish kilt that showed his lameness. In illustrations Wayland's left hand grasps a pair of tongs and his right is outstretched to two females who face him. He was said to own a wondrous sword -- and he, like Osiris, was made to go into exile. Wayland's banishment was considered by him as a wrong done to him which he avenged by cutting off the heads of the King's two sons. Then he 'rose in the air on wings he had made.'

This is just one of many stories that could be recalled as the dual concerns of precession and eclipse is insisted upon. There are many lame heroes, and more than a few blind Samsons, who bring the old Mill down. But at least one time, in the story of a young herdsman of Phrygia, the hero lost his maleness, which recalls the story of Isis collecting the scattered pieces of Osiris's cut up body, finding all but his sexual organs. I would hazard a guess that it was the two testicles that the tellers of the tales had in mind. There are even references to a lame Egyptian god. Plutarch wrote that Harpocrates, (Horus), the son of Osiris and Isis, conceived after Osiris's death, was 'weak in his lower limbs.' Spell 168 of the Book of the Dead has a veiled allusion to 'what is written concerning the legs of Osiris.' 199-200.

A final thought that may be helpful in the interpretation of this amazing new artifact of the winged man is the fact that in shaman traditions around the world, the shaman is usually able to take on the form of a bird in order to ascend through the nine worlds (note that Norse mythology also has nine worlds -- we discussed the probable origin of the number nine for celestial worlds in this previous post).

The shaman was sometimes depicted as having wings -- more commonly, as having fringes or tassels on his or her garments, even in rock art, which represented and suggested wings and the power of flight. These long fringes are very familiar to most of us from the fringed shirts and other garments of Native American Indians (such as in the Nez Perce shirt below, circa 1820).

These observations are not mutually exclusive -- in other words, the possibility that the winged man of Uppaakra may be related to Weyland and to shamanism are not two distinct possibilities. We have already seen that the shamanic tradition appears to reflect and preserve many aspects of the same cosmological and spiritual beliefs encoded in ancient Egyptian "mythology" (the same ancient Egyptian mythology that is clearly connected to Norse mythology and to the stories of Weyland the Smith and perhaps to Freya and her falcon cloak as well).

All of these threads should be carefully considered by those who are now examining the startling new artifact of the winged man unearthed at Upppaarka in Sweden.