the harvest. Bronze
Age Religion is expressed in a lot of different contexts. The Cosmic
Wedding deals with two main categories: The stone circles with Stonehenge
as the pre-eminent example and with the rock carvings of southern
Scandinavia as its counterpart when it comes to symbolism. Sigmund
Freud´s theory of the primary process forms the basis of the
interpretation of the symbols of the religious ways of the Bronze
Age population. The main thesis in his theory is that a symbol contains
more than one meaning, and that the symbol and the things symbolized
have something in common. The meaning of a symbol is not constant,
it can change according to the situation or context. Yet the other
layers of meaning are still present – more or less latently.
The primary process is the original way of functioning of the mind.
It is never totally abandoned, though. Adults function according
to primary process whenever the Ego gives place to it e.g. in dreams,
religious and artistic experiences. On these occasions the world
of the primary process is experienced as if it were reality. This
is the principle of sympathetic magic: what you want to happen is
imitated or dramatized either concretely or in a symbolic way as
it is the case with e.g. the rain dance where the rhythm imitates
the falling rain.
Inspired by Mircea Eliade, first and foremost his book from 1949,
The Myth of Eternal Return. Archetypes and Repetition, I have identified
a “basic myth”. The elements of this myth, which can
be found in most early agricultural societies, are as follows: the
duel between the old and the new – death/the end – the
new beginning. This basic myth forms the structure when it comes
to the interpretation of the symbols of Bronze Age Religion.
Depicting the elements of the basic myth using sympathetic magic
is a ritual way of ensuring the eternal repetition of the different
The many thousand rock carvings in southern Scandinavia are connected
to the agricultural society of the Bronze Age. One of the motives,
the circular holes in the rock, cup marks, is older though, as it
has been made since the Neolithic Age. It is not only the oldest
symbol, it is also the most common symbol throughout the whole period.
The first element in the basic myth is the duel. Many fights between
two persons are depicted among the rock carvings, especially in
Bohuslen, Sweden. Most of the fighting men wear bird masks and axes,
and some of the men are depicted with different kinds of circular
torsos. The bird masks, the axes and the circular torsos all indicate
that the duel is connected with the sun.
Death or the end of the cycle is found most clearly expressed in
Vitlycke, Bohuslen. This very famous scene shows a woman sitting
by the head of a man lying down. Just above his feet is placed a
ship, the vessel to carry him to the place of the new beginning.
Inside the woman ´s body is placed a horseshoe or a U-shaped
figure, her womb. This would be a very appropriate way of showing
the beginning of a new life and thus a new cycle.
An enormous effort went into assuring the beginning of the new cycle
and the new life. Many motives depicted on the rocks of southern
Scandinavia are recognized as being part of a sun- and fertility
cult. Apart from the obvious representations of the sun such as
the sun chariots and the many sun wheels – a cross surrounded
by a circle – in different contexts, there are the couples,
the men copulating animals and also the ploughing scenes. The three
latter are obviously fertility scenes and all of them can be symbolic
representations of the cosmic wedding – hieros gamos - between
the sky manifesting itself in the rain, the lightening and most
important, the sun, and the earth.
We see how one cyclic level can symbolize another: the human wedding
symbolizes the cosmic wedding. This cosmic wedding between the male
sun and the female earth is the condition of the growth of the crop
and thus of the survival of society. The cosmic wedding is symbolized
in a vast number of ways on the rocks, many of which contain a more
or less clear element of androgynity.
The before mentioned cup mark is one of the most complex symbols.
Among other things it can symbolize the sun (the circle shape),
and it can symbolize the female sex (the hollowness and ability
to enclose something). Usually they are interpreted rather vaguely
as fertility marks, and they certainly are. Actually the androgynity
of the cup mark is the most abstract and simple way of symbolizing
the unity of the male – the sun – and the female –
the earth -, or in other words the cosmic wedding. In this context
androgynity does not refer to the situation where the two sexes cancel
each other out, on the contrary: they remain powerful in their difference
and as such they are an immense source of fertility.
Androgynity is present in many other rock carving symbols, e.g.
the boat and the snake.
Often the cup mark occurs within the abovementioned female horseshoe
or U-shape. In some carvings we see the cup mark placed between
a woman´s legs forming a U-shape. In others this figure is
recognized as the adorant, a person who worships the sun with arms
raised. In others again we see cattle horns surrounding a cup mark,
or acrobats making somersaults around a cup mark. The horseshoe
and cup mark can again be interpreted as a union between the female
horseshoe – the womb – and the sun in a cosmic wedding.
In the Stonehenge we know today, Stonehenge III, much of the same
symbolism is found. The monument consists of a circular ditch and
an earth mound. Inside this is the huge sarsen circle with overlying
lintels forming a perfect circle inside which there is another smaller
circle built of bluestones. The bluestone circle consists of tall
pillars as well as smaller and broader stones, one of each kind
frames the entrance to the circle.
Inside the bluestone circle there is a U-shape or horseshoe formed
by five trilithons, which is a Greek word for two upright stones
with a lintel. The large sarsen stones are smoothly dressed on the
inside and as for the trilithon at the bottom of the horseshoe it
is dressed on both sides. On the inner side of one of the trilithons
there are carvings of axe heads and a dagger, and on another a rectangular
figure, which has been interpreted as a representation of a mother
goddess. Axe head carvings are also found on the outer side of the
Inside this setting is placed another horseshoe made of tall bluestones.
The opening of the double horseshoe is to the northeast and the
In the whole structure of Stonehenge III there is an immanent presence
of the two counterparts, male and female. As already mentioned the
circle itself contains both male and female symbolism, which is
emphasized by the bluestones of the inner circle: the tall male
pillars and the female smaller stones.
All the bluestones in the inner – female - horseshoe are tall
phallic pillars, so here we find the androgynity once more.
Furthermore the rectangular figurine also has her male counterparts,
the axe heads and the dagger.
It has already been mentioned that androgynity and thus the permanent
union of male and female can be interpreted as the simplest representation
of the cosmic wedding between the sun and the earth. As for Stonehenge
III the androgynity is just one aspect of this symbolism, which is
unfolded every year at midsummer, when the sun is most powerful.
At this time of the year it will rise and shed its fertilizing power
into the horseshoe, impregnating Mother Earth`s womb.
When it comes to the concrete rites, we can only guess. Maybe the
main event – the sun fertilizing the earth – has been
followed by other similar events? Maybe a man and a woman have performed
the cosmic wedding as depicted on the Scandinavian rock carvings?
Maybe the mighty ruler has actually performed the cosmic wedding,
he representing the sun and a woman the earth? At any rate this
would be a religious and social event that would secure both the
crops and the ruler´s status.