Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Brigantes

To depart briefly from the themes of fun, (brilliant or otherwise) let us for a moment focus on something perhaps no less manic but certainly more violent and barbaric. It should be noted that in ancient times, this same area of Blackpool was inhabited by Celtic tribes known as Brigantes. They were fierce, sea-going warriors, known for building vitrified forts close by the seashore. Vitrification is a process whereby (usually red) sandstone is emplaced over the more accessible points of a castle and coated with a compound that when heated causes it to harden and bond with its neighboring stones to produce a remarkably slippery surface,--difficult to scale or mount a serious assault.

Descendants of these tribes are justifiably proud of this technology which often saved them from the predations of marauding Vikings (whose shoes were likely already a bit slippery from standing in fish-guts and puke). “ vitrify a fort, ancient man left little or nothing to chance. Having assessed the melting characteristics of the rock (with a test burn) and acquired additional more suitable facing rock if needed, the rampart was prepared by the application of surface stones, together with the application (paraphrasing) of a flux-like compound known to improve the adhesion and melting characteristics of the rock... the entire rampart was turned into an enormous kiln, by using clay to build a vented tunnel around and above it,... This allowed the heat to be amplified and directed toward the rampart, thus achieving the desired vitrification. ” This substance that was used to slag the stone corresponded and was descended in part from an ancient unfunny compound known as “Greek Fire” which (having little or nothing to do with the digestion of diner food) had the unique characteristic that it continued burning even when immersed in water. It was sometimes introduced by the fort-vitrifiers to achieve the very high temperatures required for melting the sandstone and also allow the introduction of water into the vitrifying process as an agent to control melting on the surfaces. 

It had been employed by the ancient Greek in naval battles, being formed into balls to be hurled by catapults at enemy ships, this having, aside from its hydroanaphilic qualities, a capacity to scare the living shit out of anyone. Because of this secondary capability, it continued to be particularly effective as a naval weapon long after the fall of Greece as a naval power; (as a sailor you really do not want to watch other sailors burning to death, whether they be friend or foe). Though its exact composition remains a mystery, its horrific effects are well-recorded by several respected sources and documented, (as have been those of its modern, equally unfunny, counterpart, napalm).

The point being, despite suffering the aforementioned effects of the omnipresent voluntary historical amnesia, to the Blackpuddlians we can safely ascribe that the arrival of a dozen or so somewhat confused Norwegian sailors did not in reality mark the beginning of Blackpool’s nautical heritage. In describing these early residents of the area, the modern word ‘brigand’ is usually substituted as a later derivation of the ancient Roman term "Brigantes,” which was the name the gave to the loose agglomeration of Celtic tribes who would sometimes harass the Roman forces in coastal areas of an otherwise then subject Britain.

The derivative word, "brigand," therefore eventually came to imply not only general lawlessness but also a certain shiftiness of character and the willingness, even eagerness, to utilize duplicity for pecuniary aims or civil advantages,--all while maintaining an appropriately nautical flair. The Brigantes, like their forts, were thus renowned for being somewhat slippery m___f__kers and were singularly adept at the hit-and-run raids inflicted on their less fort dependent colleagues,--for this purpose employing small coastwise crafts that later became known as Brigantines. The word “Brigantine” thus was eventually adopted into the common usage by the Royal Navy in the early 17th century as referring to coast-hugging, smaller vessels that in a pinch could change their markings and engage in privateering or even piracy should the opportunity present itself.
To trace the term yet further, (and hopefully we are not straying too far afield from our original topic of amusement parks), “A brigantine (the shortened expression is the modern term brig)” meant a small vessel equipped both for both sailing and rowing, ‘swifter and more easily maneuvered than larger ships and hence employable for purposes of piracy, espionage, reconnoitering, etc. and as such however (and this is a key point) attendant upon the presence of larger friendly ships nearby (paraphrased) for protection’. The meaning was later broadened to designate any small two-masted vessel with square rigging, having on the mainmast, a fore-and-aft mains’il. (A triangular type of sail has an advantage over square-rigged sail in being able to be better maneuvered and to allow for better sailing of the ship (sic) in general in shallower coastal waters where winds and currents are often uncertain.) “It did not take much to convert a square rigged brigantine from a merchant ship to a privateer, or vice versa and privateers have a long history in Atlantic waters and though they extended their activities away from the coastline they were still generally inclined to avoid pitched naval battles, relying instead on subterfuge and deception. Since the better prize was (a) merchant ship loaded with goods that could be easily sold or a vessel wounded in another engagement, limping home it was not usually until after one of these situations occurred that they would raise their true colors.” While the range of these vessels was extended through greed and opportunity, the original imputation of slipperiness still obtains and has remained integral to the definition even though the use has since been institutionalized.

Nautical entrepreneurship (as I euphemistically dubbed it) is a long and well-regarded tradition on the seas. American privateers, (just one example), were on the whole so successful at it that it was often difficult to keep a crew aboard the somewhat pathetic American Navy during the Revolutionary War as they generally preferred the more hazardous but definitely more rewarding work aboard the privateers. Washington himself was constantly obliged to attend to this matter, using the Quartermaster Department to dig up seamen until responsibility was transferred to the Marine Committee of the Congress but even then, nothing, not even the ten-dollar enlistment bonus, was sufficient to lure those with actual nautical skills who could easily garner a tidier sum throughout by remaining in private employ.

The point here being (sigh) that the true origins and heritage of Blackpool are not entirely lost in the mists of time and further, that in all likelihood the murderous Brigantes themselves eventually became (or almost all) good Christians, (practicing Catholics or Church of England) except for the Theosophists and Wiccans and as further evidence of this fact, there once was (and is still) existing sculpture ensconced high in the vaulted nave of the church of St. Michael the Archangel, at Kirklington, (not far from Blackpool) in North Yorkshire, a three-headed icon, the central one belonging certainly to Ogmios, one of the major ear-licking Druidic deities worshiped by the Brigantes.

There are precious few other extant in situ neo-Celtic period images to compare him with but we know Ogmios in particular generally represented the central figure in a sea-going mythology. He appeared generally (as occurs here at Kirklington) in a triptych, his extenuated tongue implanted luridly in the ear of one of the adjacent, (obviously lesser) deities and it is clear therefore that despite its standing today in a Christian church, this pagan god was the main subject of this particular sculpture that appears to us gazing down from the nave of St. Michaels. 

Not just the Brigantes but all of the early Celtic tribes; the Setantii, the Carvetii, were living around present day Blackpool, (whether or not they were busy vitrifying ramparts or hunting Elk or ear-licking like manic Chihuahuas at the time), and were worshiping a rather eclectic panoply of gods, mostly Druidic in origin, but some others derived or modeled after their Greco-Roman counterparts (these no doubt introduced by Romans who did not prevent but frowned on native forms of worship). It was consequently not all that unusual for some of these Celtic deities, over time, to take on the characteristics of their Roman counterparts (and vice versa) and aside from obsessive ear licking (or perhaps because of it) Ogmios was associated with eloquence and also strength and hence collated with the Greco/Roman god Hercules (who also was known to have exhibited the characteristic on occasion of being able to talk his way out of a scrape). (And should he not) Sometimes Ogmios was pictured with his tongue becoming a club, the club also being the preferred weapon of Hercules (the convincer).    

It is also possible that in the image in the church where he is depicted with what appears as his tongue inserted into lesser deity’s ear, it is not a tongue at all but rather the links of a golden chain by which their ears were linked to the tip of his tongue; implying the power of his speech chained mens’ minds with golden links (as he is also credited with having invented the runes or written form of the Druidic language and thus also became the god of marriage contracts which is probably why he was granted ear-licking status in the first place).

As for his association with amusement parks: it is also possible that having his tongue employed regularly in coaxing earwax out of lesser deity’s ears, that (aside from having a fluid vocabulary) he was also the god of throwing up, which perhaps explains his association with that other hyperdentitious deity whom we have called ‘Funny Face’ (after George Tilyou who first named him); and who presided over the entrance of that delirious cathedral of fun, Steeplechase, though how and why this name came to be employed is somewhat less clear (and perhaps should remain so).