In the presence of the Great Goddess Anu and central to the Art of Douglas Chowns.


The essence of my painting is found in the graphic body spirals...
... they empower ritual imagery.

It is the kinetic spiral playing on the body that breathes of life.

Art origins of the paleolithic were seriously ritual magic. As a practicing professional Artist I do not subscribe to the possibility that adornment graphics including carving were merely decorative insomuch that they were “pretty” patterns. The graphic had meaning and was an integral part of an idea often involving time place and ritual. The graphic only would become impotent when separated as would a church from its cross.

My belief is that marks on walls, standing stones, hillsides, tools, weapons, utensils and the body itself, were a means of working homeopathic or sympathetic magic. My art follows this same law of contagion that Sir James George Fraser laid down at the beginning of the last century when he stated that: “Magic was always an art - never a science”. The spirals flowing over the figures in my works illustrate the existence of these supernatural forces believed to be sacred in terms of their contiguity. My work is also intended to be if you will, Shamanistic and is conceived as part of a positive emotional experience to effect and activate the pituitary gland of persons involved to help them reach an empowered state.

In origin my source for this conceptual is that the spirals are reflections of sunlight off water. Actual reflections that were projected or cast onto the body flesh of our Paleolithic ancestors gathered in ritual. They were in fact experiencing a self induced adrenal flow causing psychotropic effect.

Submerged within a mass of swirling light they believed they were supposedly taken over by the deity and so were guaranteed empowered strength and stature - dopamine, seretonin the natural amphetamine released via the hypothalamus, they truly became supernatural for a brief time, as one with the life force herself - perhaps the great Aurignacian Goddess earth mother - Anu also called Danu if we apply the concept to the age of the later Neolithic megalithic passage grave builders. They were practicing positive magical sorcery. A hunting magic conceptual dating from at least 15,000 years ago, displayed in the caves of Lascaux and Altimira. Today we might call it neuropsychology.

In order to survive they evolved the arte of “the doing” that is an art that includes the need of a necessary ritual experience and performance, in this case bound up in the Magdalenian mythological beliefs of the hunter gatherer.

21st December Sunshaft Photo21st December Sunshaft PhotoI propose that the magical rite was in fact very simple. Conjoined reflections of sunlight off water and its manifestation physically upon a recipient activated his or her body chemistry which was believed to be sacred empowerment. Like Holy coloured light from pierced windows in Chartres Cathedral these light projections swirling over the flesh and surrounding ceiling and walls put the recipient in a Holy or Spiritual space - timing was crucial to the process by concentrating anticipation to the focussed annual moment. The moment only possible on the passage alignment with the sun at mid winter solstice. Not at dawn but best at two minutes to ten am. on 21st December and lasting for seventeen minutes.

The ritual at “Cashel Aenghus Og” the house of young Angus is remembered by myth associated to the place where Aenghus Og son of the Dagda conjured the spirit of Diarmid O’ Dyna, mate of Grainne the sun deity after Diarmid or Diarmat slew the wild boar of Bengulben. My family of McDiarmids have mythological descent of this line of Grainne daughter of Cormac high King of Ireland. Myth also speaks of Fenius Farsa a Sythian in Egypt, his son Niul and Scota daughter of the Pharaoh, of her great grandson Goidel later in Spain and of Bregin whose grandson was Mile. Mile with Amergin sailed to Ireland to be remembered as the Milesians after the battle with the mythical Faery race Tuatha de Danann.

Scholars historically agree that towards the end of the fourth millennium B.C. a race of people migrated west by water following the setting sun from the eastern Mediterranean. Over time they sailed into the Atlantic then north following the coast of today's Spain and Portugal where their presence is noted by the erection of Antas or portal stones.
From 3,200 BC spirals and other engraved polished stone Neolithic graphics feature as an integral part of ritual constructions called chambered or passageway cairns. Always found close to the sea and on the western seaboard and islands of Europe. In particular I note Gavarinis in Morbihan Brittany and 700 kms north in “Cashel Aenghus Og” - Bru na Boinne in north eastern Ireland popularly known today as Newgrange. Lately also Crantit in Orkney.

The two former sites are the basis of my conjecture.

 Interestingly these constructions predate Stonehenge and the pyramids by a thousand years and as part of other local complexes are claimed to be the earliest and largest stones structures in the world.

My personal collective interests as one descended from early Britons and identifying as a Celt, come together in my Arte. I try to involve all the senses: touch, sight, taste, smell and sound, all acute to the early world of survivalists, which I reinstate and rebirth as the foundation to my work. All parts of the Arte have place, purpose and design.

Marks on paper, engraved stone, sacred colours, participation, ritual, sound, taste, sight, smell and the seasonal year in its eight fold occasions are the vehicle of our existence as humans in a self created world based around our own form and stature - the human body. Since ancient times Greeks referred to the body ergonomic as “The measure of all things” On my part I have borrowed the title for an intensive week long workshop I developed and tutored in 1996 at tertiary level in England designed to prove and support my theory.

Located on the river Boyn in north eastern Ireland and celebrated at the time of annual mid winter solstice 21st December, we understand Newgrange - Bru na Boinne the same Cashel Aenghus Og, that great ceremony and ritual was performed for generations starting from about five thousand two hundred years ago. With Christianity Patrick replaced the old religions and Newgrange - Bru na Boinne became no more than a mythical earth mound associated with the Tuatha de Danann, a Sidh or Faery people, Diarmid O’ Dyna, Grainne, the great Kings of Tara and the Fenian Heroes.

 

Although pillaged from Viking times the mound was first opened officially in 1965 only thirty seven years ago. Two years later in 1967 it was discovered by Professor MJ Kelly that a ray of sunlight penetrates through a parallel shaft above the 18.9 meter passage at the moment of the sun’s winter alignment to strike the floor and light the 6 meter circular end chamber. The alignment starts to illuminate from the 19th December and daily increases duration to the solstice on 21st December when it lasts a full 17 minutes. From 9.58 am it lasts until 10.14 am. On the 22nd it is in wane and the last day the 23rd the alignment is lost for another year of darkness.


Explanations of possible ceremony and ritual have been forthcoming from scholars but in thirty five years to date no scenario has been forthcoming from anyone such as myself working a concept from an Art background as a practicing artist. Although a senior tutor my qualification to extend this concept is not as an academic. I am little more than a romantic living with the elements conceiving fine art much in the fashion of the people who built and used passage graves. Indeed with the accumulated folk history and today's available knowledge, not being bound by logic may be an advantage. “Creatives” were responsible for these conceptuals, not cademic researchers. They, the creators were dreamers - I am also a dreamer.

A few yards back from my beach in McKenzie Bay below Mt Manaia two small streams meet in my garden at a pool below massive flowering Pohutukawa trees and sub tropical plants. Itself a magical place.

When dredging gravel which annually builds after winter rains flood from the hill I had an almost hallucinatory experience. One might say psychedelic. Bright sunshine directly in line with one of the streams waterfalls cast a wide shaft of light through the open space to strike and reflect off the surface of the pool. Being hot and subtropical I was working in shorts and gumboots .... on stepping into the pool my shovel rippled the water and a burst of electric reflections phased everywhere, on me, the trees and plants all around.
I had stepped into a living force of amazing swirling beams of light coursing all over my body. I became an electric current alive and dazzling, the hairs on the back of my neck lifted.

Since being required to teach from a textbook “Maori Decorative Art” during a short spell of relief teaching at high school I questioned the word ”decorative” on the textbook title supplied, which offended my sense of design and the use of tattoo as I understand by the Picts and other early European peoples. Maori tattooed themselves nodoubt with much the same notion in mind. In myth Mataora introduced “Moko” after he returned from Rarohengs the under world of Spirits.

Parkinson, Sidney 1745-1771Parkinson, Sidney 1745-1771“Moko” to the face and also applied to other parts of the body is limited to areas of muscles. The lips where speech issues and possibly the words or sounds of the God, have special place especially in women. These muscle areas may be flexed or animated and thereby I believe the true purpose of moko exists. The face contains our most concentrated and complex surface of muscles. The head is considered to be Tapu and the most sacred part of the body. Maori like Celts venerate the head as the seat of the life force. Uniquely interesting is that Maori unlike all other races never wear a mask, indeed masks have never been part of their culture although as Pacific Islanders they are from islands where masks are used frequently in tandem with body tattoo. Moko is their mask.
Tattoo a birth rite with Chiefs and Tohunga wearing the most complicated and detailed which accounted their genealogy and skills. The skin was often carved or chiseled which created moving surfaces - I believe the design in motion was the essence of transformation. The difference between mere man or as one with the Gods.

Why should Maori be unique in this way? With need of few clothes the limbs, torso
and head constantly visible the muscles and facial expressions always in motion I believe they were conjouring with the life force of vegetation and nature. Not occasionally - but continually.

Maori in their recent liberation less than 200 years ago from a stone age existence make study a more positive issue as many long time ceremonies and attitudes still exist in New Zealand society. This contributes a useful factor when assessing our own northern hemisphere ancestors who were more alike than unlike to Maori. The use of homeopathic sympathetic magic by contiguity and association is obvious. Maori neolithic ritual continues in day to day New Zealand. It is accepted and serious. If a drowning occurred here in McKenzie Bay a Tapu would immediately be placed and all fishing or the collection of shellfish banned. Within miles it would be prohibited until local Iwi elders lift the Tapu. This is normal practice. Nobody would offend the Tapu, no matter what or who they were.

The Haka performed at a Rugby match is by no means merely colourful apparently savage amusement. Haka is serious! More interesting is “Taki” or “Wero” a part of the ceremony “Te Powhiri Ki Te Manuhiri” - a welcome and acceptance on to Marae or land of a host tribe. The visiting party usually bare footed approach only when called. A warrior springs into view threatening further advance, his face contorted and eyes wild and rolling. His aggression is furious and his tongue threatening ugly insult. He snorts and prances through rehearsed dance of exaggerated footwork while he whirls a Taiaha Pouwhenua, a short hardwood spear dangerously within inches of the face of the representative of the approaching party who is expected not to flinch.

One is reminded of Cu Chullain fighting Ferdia in the stream possessed by fury, rage and shape changing in grotesque gestures.
The visitor is offered to recover a twig or leaf placed on the ground I believe to acknowledge the vegetative life force deity of the Iwi, after which the party may move forward. Women sing using their hands and fluttering fingers in imitation of the living leaves on a tree.

As Master Artist and Gaidhealtachd Seanair recognised by Maori, I myself have been personally awarded the honor several times the protocol is deadly serious. My interest has naturally been inquisitive towards the beliefs of the people I live and work with.

My conjecture is that the warriors body tattoos and especially his head and face writhing as a kinetic living force is a parallel concept and likely similar to our own European neolithic. The wild eyes, thrusting tongue and offensive attitude leave no doubt that the empowered has ceased to be man, One is facing the living God of the tribe or Iwi. This meeting ceremony has much more daunting prospect than facing a mere mortal warrior. One is facing the God force himself.

A clear demonstration of sympathetic magic to identify and imitate the animation of the living presence of the forces of growth in vegetation. Forces taken on to empower his own potency and ultimately the Iwi survival. However it must be said that Maori and their art are consumed often with violence and aggression, unlike the Avebury people. This same age old ritualistic ceremony is perhaps retained in New Zealand today not with shallow amusement as we Celts who touch wood for luck or throw silver into pools of water but with serious intent in my view. These ceremonies remain serious protocol, are part of every public civic occasion and may be observed locally and in government.

A good example is Maori protocol in health in our hospitals. Officially represented by Tohunga (a teacher or craftsman/elder) he instructs students and is required to approve nurses training before they can qualify to nurse Maori. Body parts and post mortem examination have strict conditions and parts must be returned to the body for burial. Maori have resolved their Christian and Pagan acknowledgments equally under the guise of Christianity much as did the early Celtic church in Ireland and inner Hebrides.

In my garden pool that summer afternoon my skin was the canvas for convulsions of brilliant and magical light forms. Electric is a reasonable word. An ancient superstitious Celt in the same circumstance may well have believed to be as one or in the power of the Gods. Certainly a small rush thrilled through me in consequence of the hallucination. I am told by authoritative geneticists that we yet retain the same hunter gatherer dopamine genes programmed to activate our bodies at times of fear, stress and excitement.

Although I have not been privileged to visit Newgrange, from what I understand an alcove to the chamber contains a stone basin believed to have held charred remains or an offering. One account claims ; “three basins” and a wide shallow sort of bath called the womb of Mary”. Close by an engraved triskel on the wall. I would like to suggest that one or all three receptacles were centrally placed holding water while those gathered present stood in a semi circle waiting for the shaft of light to illuminate the passage.

Nothing in our history or mind is so powerful as water. It gives growth, life and is stronger than fire, indeed a crucial need to man and nodoubt in the minds of those gathered in the dark womb of the mother Goddess, perhaps the medium of benediction to activate growth. A pebble dropped, a ritual offering, the smallest disturbance of the water surface and the life force is released in a burst upon all present as the morning solstice penetrates the chamber. I suggest a mentally orgasmic experience of being as one with the deity.

450 miles south of Newgrange is Gavarinis in Morbihan Brittany, close to the standing stones of Carnac. Gavrinis is a similar passage tumulus but with unexplained carved graphics cut into the stones that line the passageway. Here the designs are internal where at Newgrange curvilinear carved stones feature outside at the entrance and as the kerb stones around the mound. In both cases they may represent water or light patterns, the life force within the stone, the abode of the spirit force or alternatively of venerated dead individuals. White quartz glitters the entire mound as a shining place. Quartz a natural mineral known to have special electrical storage capacity and well known since early radio with “cats whisker” is still proving itself in computer technology - Graves “White Goddess” no less?

I suggest this winter sun ritual in both sacredmounds which have identical alignment on the same day as part of the eight fold year, was in reality a well used magical idea developed by our neolithic ancestors who annually used the occasion to be as one with their deity of light and regeneration. A trinity of earth mother, life, death, and rebirth graphically featured by the Triscal. To be afterwards demonstrated by superhuman acts of virility and strength.

We accept the existence of hormone as normal body chemistry named from the Greek hormao - I excite. We acknowledge amphetamine and have recently developed many ways to action our own body chemistry by concentration or meditation. That is to trigger the adrenal flow to increase our capacity - ancient man was doing no more in a controlled situation. Result - super human capacity for a brief time, maybe only moments.

Spiral GownSpiral GownSport in Celtic myth always rated highly with feats of endurance or strength even in women. Spiral GownSpiral GownHighland Games survive as a reminder of more serious feats in battle or as Heroes. Weight lifters and athletes train to master increased strength as normal procedure. We accept that in an emergency we ourselves often have the capacity for example, to lift a vehicle off a trapped child from under a crashed car when ordinarily we do not have the strength, but in that urgent moment our body chemical activates, and we can.

This Arte “ the arte of the doing” has generally become abused and forgotten as unnecessary to our existence and well being. However , I suggest to ignore 40 million years of programming developed first as apes and then Hominids 14 or as little as 4 million years ago, is to consider our graphic imaging mentality as lacking as a church without a cross. I suggest the engraved stones at Newgrange and Gavrinis are our oldest logotypes. They are I believe the long lasting but static hormonal symbols of the life force but better represented in motion on the kinetic living flesh of the shaman’s body. The living God present in the form of man.

I wish my artwork to be an aid that activates and empowers the body or state of mind by using the same basic principle, especially to self heal, cure or to bring a sense of well being.

In 1981 twenty years ago at a one man show at the Molesworth Gallery Wellington I featured spirals printed in unreal iridescent water blue and green colours on 3 meter lengths of luxurious shimmering cloth.
At the opening a young woman lay naked beneath a shimmering cloth of gold stitched to the floor carpet featuring black printed DNA, she moved very very slowly first as a living form, sometimes humanoid sometimes as a chrysalis, while above her another length also a DNA double helix shimmered diagonally floor to ceiling, rippling up in waves blown by a wind fan as a set piece for the opening.

I offered lengths designed and printed specifically as an aid to self healing. When feeling ill or simply off - one could simply wrap oneself up, retire to a quiet comfortable place - and heal.

CONCLUSION I have a desire to prove my theory and to research the concept with a propose mockup construction as a controlled workshop involving students.

I invite expressions of interest from institutes, a TV Production Company or individuals who find my theory worthy.

At this juncture 2002 at age 65 I myself need help to further the concept. A DVD of students at work plus the DVD lecture note starting points to the course “The Measure of all Things” at Gt Missenden Abbey. A week long Summer School I was invited to tutor in 1996 are available which graphically explores much of this same philosophy and thinking.

I am a professional practicing Fine Artist with forty seven years experience and a N Z Dept. Education - Tertiary T3 Senior Tutor.