Communities would come together from far-and-wide at significant points in the lunar year. Processing along the Gypsey Race, the sacred winterbourne stream. Passing the great internment barrow of Willey Howe to summon ancestors. Entering into trance around the towering sone needle of the Rudston monolith. A great transmigration of souls. Shapeshifting into animal powers. The stag-woman, and dogman. Their presence can still be witnessed across the contemporary landscape. Stories of werewolves and cryptids. Animal mutilations. Missing time. Light forms. Orbs.
(Introduction to Tim Brennan’s ‘Songs from Star Carr’, 2021).
This special individual can access other dimensions through ritual trance/meditation techniques – repetitive drummer, breathing, dance, whirling (whirling Dervish), chanting and often amplified with the use of psychedelics, ayahuasca, peyote or in the case of the Same and the Fly Agaric mushroom.
Once induced the Shaman can enter other parallel worlds, can
transmography (shape shift) into animal forms (spirit animals
perhaps), a hare, fox, eagle, a snake, a stag, or hybrid form etc
The animal form might map the terrain to aid the groups hunting.
The shaman might travel through time
Might visit ancestors.
Might spy or enact things upon others
Might heal the sick
Might travel to the future
For the Sami people off Northern Scandinavia, the Reindeer is the focus of the society. It is the main source of sustenance and also figures at the core of its belief system. The Reindeer’s heart is understood to be the beating core of the cosmos.
One ritual involves the Sami Noadi, ‘the one who sees in the
dark’, the Shaman, dancing around an initiate whilst beating a
drum or playing a flute called a fadno or chanting words of their
own composition to invoke the Reindeer spirit from the otherworld.
Once in trance, the Noadi stabs the initiate in the breast region
above the heart with a reindeer antler. The act is not lethal but
connects the spirit power of the Reindeer to the individual.
The Reindeer has gifts humans do not possess. They can see much more than a human can in the dark. The reindeer can see in ultraviolet light whereas we need a black light to do so. The ability to see in the dark is of course desirable in a land where most of the winter is in perpetual darkness. The great female reindeer is the mother goddess who bears the sun out of the darkness between her antlers.
Rituals of this kind seem not to have a clear distinction between what we call the audience and the performer. In pre-industrial societies the Shaman is understood as the special individual but the overall terms of the ritual are very much one in which the overall social group are participants.
There is no stage and no script. All become witnesses as opposed to what we think of as audience.
Before the industrial revolution the British Isles still had many rituals that blurred the boundaries of performer and spectator. Examples might be the The Haxey Hood in Lincolnshire, the Padstow Hobby Horse in Cornwall, the Flaming Tar Barrels of Ottery St Mary in Devon or the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake in Gloucester.
We can’t rule out how important a sacred location or locations could well have been for our rituals of Star Carr. The whole region is littered with burial mounds and tumuli and although these are not dated anywhere close to the dates of the Mesolithic era, we can but wonder if they did not have sacred importance for much longer. Why might we speculate this?
Well, if we jump forward century upon century into the early christian period we know that many Anglo-Saxon churches were built on top of earlier pagan sites. Often, they would incorporate a megalith into their boundary. There are two good examples of this not so far away from Star Carr. The standing stone in the churchyard of St. Leonards, Speeton is a beautiful reminder of earlier pre-christian ‘worship’ but by far the most impressive is the great monolith at in the churchyard of All Saints, Rudston.
Useful Links: For more on Sami drum visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A1mi_drum
And, for more on reindeer and spiritualism visit visit https://shamanicpractice.org/article/untwisting-the-story-of-reindeer/