Lost Mountain

I have discovered that Lost Mountain, an unincorporated part of western Cobb county, has applied for city status in order to preserve its semi-rural nature. The place had a role to play in the Atlanta Campaign, and is famous for its old country store, which has been in continuous operation since 1881. Plus, like Waleska and the Stone Pile near Dahlonega, it has a romantic Cherokee legend associated with it. According to one version of the story, the Cherokee chief Nickajack had a daughter named Oolalee, whom he had betrothed to the young brave Chickoee. However, Oolalee’s heart belonged to another brave named Sawnee, of whom her father did not approve – and with whom she eloped, never to be seen again. 

In later years, the story says, old Nickajack used to sit by the door of his wigwam and looking away to the northwest would murmur, in his native tongue, the syllable “lost!” His tribesmen, hearing his constant murmur of “lost, lost,” when he looked toward the mountain, called it “Lost Mountain.” 

I would be interested to know more about why white people enjoyed these sorts of stories, told in this sort of sentimental, figurative, “moonshiney” diction. Here’s another example from Rock City, a tourist trap in Chattanooga, Tenn., complete with manufactured waterfall and manufactured Indian Legend to go along with it.

I assume that work has been done on this question….

Otto Rahn

Dan Franke asks: “You want a medieval studies Nazi Germany mystery? Look no further.” From Wikipedia:

Otto Wilhelm Rahn (18 February 1904 – 13 March 1939) was a German writer, medievalistAriosophist, and an officer of the SS and researcher into the Grail myths. He was born in Michelstadt, Germany, and died in Söll (KufsteinTyrol) in Austria. Speculation still surrounds Otto Rahn and his research.

From an early age, Rahn became interested in the legends of Parzival, the Holy GrailLohengrin and the Nibelungenlied. While attending the University of Giessen, he was inspired by his professor, Baron von Gall, to study the Albigensian (Catharism) movement and the massacre that occurred at Montségur.

In 1931, he travelled to the Pyrenees region of southern France where he conducted most of his research. Aided by the French mystic and historian Antonin Gadal, Rahn argued that there was a direct link between Wolfram von Eschenbach‘s Parzival and the Cathar Grail mystery. He believed that the Cathars held the answer to this sacred mystery and that the keys to their secrets lay somewhere beneath the mountain peak where the fortress of Montségur remains, the last Cathar fortress to fall during the Albigensian Crusade.

Rahn wrote two books linking Montségur and Cathars with the Holy Grail: Kreuzzug gegen den Gral (Crusade Against the Grail) in 1933 and Luzifers Hofgesind (Lucifer’s Court) in 1937. After the publication of his first book, Rahn’s work came to the attention of Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, who was fascinated by the occult and had already initiated research in the south of France. Rahn joined his staff as a junior non-commissioned officer and became a full member of the SS in 1936, achieving the rank of Obersturmführer.

It was an uneasy partnership for Otto Rahn; later, he explained his SS membership to friends in the following way: “A man has to eat. What was I supposed to do? Turn Himmler down?” Journeys for his second book led Rahn to places in Germany, France, Italy and Iceland. Openly homosexual, frequenting anti-Nazi circles, and having fallen out of favor with the Nazi leadership, Rahn was assigned guard duty at the Dachau concentration camp in 1937 as punishment for a drunken homosexual scrape. He resigned from the SS in 1939.

But the SS would not allow anyone to resign without consequences. Soon, Rahn found out the Gestapo was after him, and he was even offered the option of committing suicide. He vanished. On 13 March 1939, nearly on the anniversary of the fall of Montségur, Rahn was found frozen to death on a mountainside near Söll (KufsteinTyrol) in Austria. His death was officially ruled a suicide.

Crazy stuff! 

The Stone Pile

A former student of mine shares a Facebook post of local historical interest:

The Georgia Photography Fanatic.

The accompanying text:

Ten miles north of Dahlonega, GA, at the intersection of US 19 and State Road 60, you’ll come up to a roundabout with something odd in the middle: a big stone pile inside a triangle! It’s known as the Stone Pile Gap & it has quite a history!

The historical marker reads:

“This pile of stones marks the grave of a Cherokee princess, Trahlyta. According to legend her tribe, living on Cedar Mountain north of here knew the secret of the magic springs of eternal youth from the Witch of Cedar Mountain.

Trahlyta, kidnapped by a rejected suitor, Wahsega, was taken far away and lost her beauty. As she was dying, Wahsega promised to bury her here near her home and the magic springs. Custom arose among the Indians and later the Whites to drop stones, one for each passerby, on her grave for good fortune. The magic springs, now known as Porter Springs, lie 4 miles northeast of here.”

According to lore, the Georgia Department of Transportation has tried to remove the stones on more than one occasion during road construction. Supposedly each time it happened, at least one person died in accidents while moving the pile, leading many to believe that removing a stone from the pile will bring the curse of the witch of Cedar Mountain upon the thief, so only recently they decided to do the next best thing; build a roundabout around the stone pile!

The Georgia Photography Fanatic.

The historical marker is quoted accurately (although according to the GHS website the maker is currently “down”):

Georgia Historical Society.

Of course I would need to do more research on this question before coming up with a definitive answer (who exactly were these people who died?), but my hunch is that this entire thing – both the original story and the story of the subsequently immovable pile – is B.S. If nothing else, the Cherokee did not have “princesses,” and any story that refers to one should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Robin Hood

Sean McGlynn reviews Lesley Coote’s Storyworlds of Robin Hood: The Origins of a Medieval Outlaw (2020) in the Spectator:

Not such a hero: the tarnished legend of Robin Hood

Far from being a selfless righter of wrongs, the outlaw was a brutal killer, according to the original ballads

Britain’s two most famous legendary figures, King Arthur and Robin Hood, remain enduringly and endearingly elusive, and thus ever-fascinating: Arthur slumbering in the mists of nebulous Avalon, Robin as a hardy perennial somewhere deep in Sherwood Forest. Historians, folklorists, Eng Lit academics and cranks — the list is not mutually exclusive — enter these realms at their peril. When I did so a few years back, a headline in the Sun alarmingly proclaimed: ‘ROBIN HOOD FROM TUNBRIDGE WELLS, SAYS HISTORIAN.’ To put it mildly, that was a rather reductive and misleading summary of my research; but it certainly raised my awareness of being ambushed while ambling along the edenic Greenwood pathways. In her engrossing book on Robin Hood, Lesley Coote also considers a geography beyond Sherwood Forest for the legend: ‘It may have differed according to the area in which the stories were being told.’ It almost certainly did, as I have long argued.

Coote rightly recognises that the folklore originates from at least eight centuries ago. Thus, even this primary source is probably more fictitious than historical. And that befits Robin perfectly, a character who, as Coote explains, undergoes constant cultural reinvention: ‘In relatively recent times, Robin Hood has been depicted as a superhero, a rebel, a war-weary outsider with “issues”, and a hoodie-wearing “lad”.’ Indeed so: in the 2018 film, he is a steampunk environmentalist for the woke generation.

Coote convincingly shows how Robin was adapted to the culture of the late Middle Ages as a variation of the fabliaux, pastourelles and tales that were popular across Europe and which were widely known in England, in which ‘the character of the outlaw and that of the minstrel are blended together in the greenwood storyworld of Robin Hood, and together they become the hero’. The constants remain in our cultural referencing of the hero: the Merry Men, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Sherwood Forest and Robin as the selfless righter of wrongs.

Read the whole thing

All of the People, All of the Time

I recently discovered an interesting blog post from David Parker from a few years back:

On September 2, 1858, speaking in Clinton, Illinois, during the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, Abraham Lincoln made one of his most famous statements: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Or maybe he said it a couple years earlier, at the 1856 Republican Convention.

Actually, we don’t know when he said it, or even if he said it at all. The above attributions were offered nearly a half century after the fact, and are generally considered unreliable. (Thomas Schwartz, former historian of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, called the claims “tenuous,” and Don and Virginia Fehrenbacher, authors of Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, gave the claims a grade of “D.”)

Read the whole thing.

Myth or Truth?

Three items of local significance that I’ve heard about recently – although are they actually true?

Indian pointing trees. Wikipedia:

Trail trees, trail marker trees, crooked trees, prayer trees, thong trees, or culturally modified trees are hardwood trees throughout North America that Native Americans intentionally shaped with distinctive characteristics that convey that the tree was shaped by human activity rather than deformed by nature or disease. A massive network of constructed pre-Columbian roads and trails has been well documented across the Americas, and in many places remnants can still be found of trails used by hunters and gatherers. One unique characteristic of the trail marker tree is a horizontal bend several feet off the ground, which makes it visible at greater distances, even in snow.

Dr. Wheeler writes: “The trees are not a myth. But if anyone points one out to you, ask yourself whether the tree is reasonably close to 200 years old.”

Symbolic quilts on the Underground Railroad. From the Longview News-Journal:

Long before Navajo code talkers in World War II and the advent of secured phone lines and encrypted emails, some say, American slaves used quilts hung from windowsills and clotheslines as a signal to others to help them escape to the North for freedom.

“These quilts contained symbols sewn into them. For instance, the North Star signaled for a slave to go north, a sailboat represented safe passage and bear claws told slaves to follow the bear trails into the mountains.

From the comment thread:

This idea has been debunked by serious historians.

1. The quilts would have had to be out all the time, as one could never know when a runaway would be coming by. Neighbors would begin to wonder why a quilt was out all the time.

2. Enslaved people would have had to know about the codes. What is the old saying? Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. Imagine a mother, husband, father facing his loved ones being sold away, and would they not be willing to reveal the secret to keep their loved ones close?

3. In his book The Underground Railroad, William Still, secretary to the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery society, states that there are records of over 800 people escaping slavery. None of them mentions using a quilt as a map. Tubman makes no reference to use of quilts in her many trips to bring family members to freedom.

4. There were songs, the most famous being “Follow the Drinking Gourd” that are alleged to be from the period to help enslaved people escape along the Ohio River.

Appalachian English. Wikipedia:

One popular theory is that the dialect is a preserved remnant of 16th-century (or “Elizabethan”) English in isolation, though a far more accurate comparison would be to 18th-century (or “colonial”) English.

From a paper on Scribd:

After leaving Appalachia for school in Louisville I learned that Appalachians use Elizabethan English. Unfortunately that isn’t true. It has, however, become a cultural myth. Michael Montgomery says, “The idea that in isolated pockets somewhere in the country people still use “Elizabethan” or “Shakespearean” speech is widely held and is one of the hardier cultural beliefs or myths in the collective American psyche.”

The idea arose in the late nineteenth century and has often been associated with the southern mountains—The Appalachians of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, and the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. At one extreme it reflects nothing less than our young nation’s yearning for a stirring account of its origins, while at the other extreme the incidental fact that English colonization of North America began during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I more than four centuries ago. Two things in particular are responsible for its continued vitality: its romanticism and its political usefulness. Its linguistic validity is another matter entirely. Linguists haven’t substantiated it, nor have they tried very hard to do so, since the claim of Elizabethan English is patently based on very little good evidence. But this lack of support is a secondary, if not irrelevant, matter for those who have articulated the Shakespearean English idea in print—popular writers and an occasional academic—for over a century. It has indisputably become a powerful cultural belief and acquired mythic status.

Medieval Details

Currently reading Frederick Forsyth’s The Negotiator (1989). I was pleased to note that the late great Maurice Keen has a cameo role in it:

When Simon and Jenny came back he nodded benignly and told them: “You’re with Dr. Keen, I believe. Corner of the quadrangle, up the stairs to the top.”

When they reached the cluttered room at the top of the stairs their tutor in medieval history and introduced themselves, Jenny called him “Professor” and Simon called him “Sir.” Dr. Keen beamed at them over his glasses.

“Now,” he said merrily, “there are two things and only two that I do not allow. One is wasting your time and mine; the other is calling me ‘sir.’ ‘Dr. Keen’ will do nicely. Then we’ll graduate to ‘Maurice.’ By the way, Jenny, I’m not a professor either. Professors have chairs, and as you see I do not; at least not on in good repair.”

He gestured happily at the collection of semi-collapsed upholstery and bade his students be comfortable. Simon sank his frame into a legless Queen Anne chair that left him three inches off the floor, and together they began to consider Jan Hus and the Hussite revolution in medieval Bohemia. Simon grinned. He knew he was going to enjoy Oxford.

Alas, the author should have consulted with Keen about the contents of his book. On page 187 we read:

He had a light lunch in a small sandwich bar off the street, called Crutched Friars, where monks once hobbled with one leg bound behind them to cause pain for the greater glory of God, and he made up his mind what he would do.

Needless to say, the “Crutched Friars” didn’t use that type of crutch, at least not habitually. Their name derives from the Latin Fratres Cruciferi, meaning “cross-bearing brethren,” and refers to the staves that they carried with them, which were surmounted by crucifixes.

It’s somewhat like how Edmund Crouchback, younger brother of King Edward I, was not actually deformed, but simply a crusader, “crouchback” being a corruption of “cross-back,” referring to the crosses that crusaders would stitch onto their clothing.

One of my happiest moments in graduate school was when I was reading Keen’s Origins of the English Gentleman (2002), and I encountered a sentiment that sounded familiar. “I made that point myself once,” I said to my wife, who, with eminent good sense, replied, “you should check the footnote.” Sure enough, the reference was to “J. Good, ‘London Guild and Diocesan Heraldry during the Reformation,’ The Coat of Arms 179 (Autumn 1997): 96-102.” Man, I was over the moon!

Lady Godiva

Was pleased to receive a Christmas treat from a college friend of mine: a box of Godiva chocolates. The company’s well-known logo features Lady Godiva riding naked on a horse.

Wikipedia.

The Godiva episode is one of the more popular medieval legends, even outside of England, where it is alleged to have taken place (the company was founded in Belgium in 1926). The idea is that Leofric, earl of Mercia (d. 1057), oppressed his subjects with heavy taxation. His wife Godgifu (Godiva) repeatedly besought Leofric to change his mind, to no avail. Finally, an exasperated Leofric said that he would grant relief, if Godgifu  rode naked through the streets of Coventry. His request was seemingly impossible by the standards of aristocratic feminine behavior, but Godgifu took him up on it and rode through the town clothed in nothing but her long hair (although she ordered everyone to stay indoors first; only a certain “Peeping Tom” violated the edict).

Leofric and Godgifu were real people. Godgifu died between 1066 and 1086, i.e. some time after the Norman Conquest; unlike most Anglo-Saxons, she retained her lands and position in the face of the regime change. The legend of her naked ride started to be told in the thirteenth century, so this is an interesting example of medieval medievalism. A good book on the phenomenon is Daniel Donahue, Lady Godiva: A Literary History of the Legend (2002), which details the erotic, aristocratic, and decadent strands of the legend that made it so appealing as the name of maker of fine chocolates.

Moon-Eyed People

From my former student Laura Craig, news of something I had not known about:

The moon-eyed people are a race of people from Cherokee tradition who are said to have lived in Appalachia until the Cherokee expelled them. They are mentioned in a 1797 book by Benjamin Smith Barton, who explains they are called “moon-eyed” because they saw poorly during the day. Later variants add additional details, claiming the people had white skin, that they created the area’s pre-Columbian ruins, and that they went west after their defeat. Barton cited as his source a conversation with Colonel Leonard Marbury (c.1749-1796), an early settler of Georgia. Marbury, a Revolutionary War officer and a Congressman in the Second Provincial Congress of Georgia (1775), acted as intermediary between Native American Indians in the state of Georgia and the United States government…

The Cherokee tradition may have been influenced by contemporary European-American legends of the “Welsh Indians”. These legends attributed ancient ruins to a Welsh pre-Columbian voyage; some versions specifically connect this voyage to a prince named Madoc. In an 1810 letter, former Tennessee governor John Sevier wrote that the Cherokee leader Oconostota told him in 1783 that local mounds had been built by white people who were pushed from the area by the ascendant Cherokee. According to Sevier, Oconostota confirmed that these were Welsh from across the ocean. Historian Gwyn A. Williams notes this is “a beautiful example of the way minds were working in the late eighteenth century – and of the power of suggestion which white minds could exercise over red”.

Author Barbara Alice Mann, who identifies herself as Ohio Bear Clan Seneca, suggests that “moon-eyed people” were Adena culture people from Ohio who merged with the Cherokees around 200 BCE.

The article does not deal with the connection between the purported expulsion of the Moon-Eyed People and Cherokee Removal in the 1830s, although I would be very surprised if no one brought it up at the time. “You expelled white people, now white people are expelling you. Just desserts!”

***

I was pleased to see yesterday this reference to another historical myth, on the side of a U-Haul:

The Kensington Runestone is a nineteenth-century forgery, but it has not prevented Alexandria, Minnesota, from constructing Big Ole, a twenty-five foot tall statue of a Viking, complete with spear, winged helmet, and “Alexandria: Birthplace of America” on his shield.

Newgrange and the Giant’s Causeway

While in Ireland we got to see two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Newgrange (in the Republic, and a “cultural” site), and the Giant’s Causeway (in the North, and a “natural” site). I would have loved to have seen the third, Skellig Michael in Co. Kerry, but access is strictly limited and entails a boat ride across an often choppy sea, and a perilous climb up steep and slippery steps – not ideal for a tour group of 35!

1. Newgrange is the largest monumental structure at Brú na Bóinne (“Palace of the Boyne”), a complex of tombs, stone circles, and other manmade features just north of the River Boyne in County Meath, north of Dublin. Drogheda (the site of a frightful Cromwellian massacre in 1649, and also the site of the famous Battle of the Boyne in 1690) is about ten kilometers to the east of Brú na Bóinne, but we were there to see something much older: a neolithic passage tomb dating from c. 3200 BC, and thus predating Stonehenge and the Giza pyramids. 

From the outside, it’s really just a large earthen mound, with a retaining wall on the front made up of white quartz cobblestones. This wall is the work of one Michael O’Kelly, the main twentieth-century archaeologist for the site and is based on his “best guess” of what it might have looked like in the neolithic. Needless to say, this feature is somewhat controversial.

Things get really interesting, however, when you enter the doorway shown above. You squeeze down a dry stone passageway for about twenty meters, and arrive in a corbeled interior chamber with three side “chapels,” each with its own stone “altar” (designated a basin). The guide claimed that this passageway is original and was never reconstructed – in fact, the entrance was covered and hidden until AD 1699, when a local landowner found it and brought it to the attention of antiquarians.

No photography was allowed inside, so I scan some illustrations.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóinne (2010), 2.

This is a view from the interior chamber looking back towards the entrance. The spiral motif is common at the site, but what it actually means is anyone’s guess.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóinne (2010), 17.

This is a view of the right-hand side chapel, with basin stone. Apparently cremated human remains were discovered on these stones, but the cremations did not take place in the chamber itself. This has given rise to the theory that bodies were cremated outside, and the remains brought into the chamber for a special ceremony, most likely at the Winter Solstice, then taken out and interred elsewhere (plenty of smaller burial tombs have been found at Brú na Bóinne).

From a postcard.

Why the Winter Solstice? Because that’s when sunlight penetrates to the interior. Here is another view of the entrance – note the “roofbox” over the door.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóinne (2010), 20.

And here is how it works: note the upward slope of the passageway, which blocks out light from the doorway, and allows only the shaft of light from the roofbox to reach the central basin stone. The slight zigzag of the passageway also ensures that the light is focussed by the time it gets to the interior. Our guide turned out the lights in the interior chamber and then lit one that simulated the solstice effect, but she said that it was a poor substitute for the real thing. But to experience this, you have to apply for it. The sunlight gets in for a few minutes a day over a period of about five days, roughly Dec. 19-23. They let ten people in per day, and you can bring a friend, meaning that 100 people can experience the Winter Solstice at Newgrange every year. The trouble is that some 32000 people apply! So the odds really aren’t in your favor, although they have started live streaming it over the Internet.

Brú na Bóinne is by no means the only such neolithic site in Europe. All along the west coast, from Spain to Scandinavia, one finds the remains of these monumental structures, usually circular and astronomically aligned, indicating surplus wealth generated by agriculture, political organization to order them constructed, and far-flung communication networks to spread knowledge of building techniques, and trade networks to import construction materials (Brú na Bóinne contains material from as far south as the Wicklow Mountains, and as far north as Slieve Croob in County Down). Alas, they are definitely prehistoric, in that nothing resembling a script has ever been discovered at any of them, so much of our knowledge of this period must remain speculative. 

2. The Giant’s Causeway is a volcanic formation of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Similar sorts of formations may be seen elsewhere on the Earth (the one I’m most familiar with is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming), but they are rare and distinctive enough to be intensely captivating.

The standard theory is that the columns were created some sixty million years ago, when a large and thick lava flow cooled very slowly and, due to the chemistry of the basalt, formed regular polygonal columns. These were hidden deep underground, as the top layer of the basalt, exposed to the air, cooled much more rapidly and thus did not develop the distinctive pattern. Successive Ice Ages, however, stripped away those top layers, revealing the basalt columns and creating what, to a human, is a bizarre, ethereal sight.

But our tour guide, Jamie Kerr of EF Tours, mockingly denigrated this theory. She preferred the original, mythological explanation, and the reason why it bears the name “Giant’s Causeway.” A similar basalt formation may be found in Scotland on the Isle of Staffa, which gave rise to the idea that:

Finn McCool was a giant who, for the most part, lived a quiet life with his family here on the Northern Irish coast. But there were rivals, other giants, and perhaps to pre-empt a challenge from his Scottish neighbour, Benandonner, Finn laid down the gauntlet and then built the Giant’s Causeway so they could meet and do battle.

However, on his way over to Scotland, Finn spied Benandonner in the distance and realised that his rival was much bigger, taller and stronger than he had appeared from across the water. Finn decided he didn’t want to fight Benandonner any more and ran back home as fast as he could – so fast that he lost his boot on the shore.

Finn found his wife Oonagh and explained the terrible mistake he had made. Oonagh, being the brains of the pair, devised the plan of dressing up Finn as a baby and putting him into their son Oisin’s cot, covering him with blankets and wrapping a shawl around his head.

Just then there was a loud banging at the door – Benandonner! ‘Where’s Finn?’ he demanded, ‘I want to fight him!’

‘Calm down!’ said Oonagh, ‘Finn’s out herding the cows… but while you’re here why don’t you let me introduce you to our son Oisin?’

When Benandonner saw the giant baby in the cot he got scared. He thought, if that’s the size of the baby, how big is the father?

Benandonner immediately ran out of the house and home across the Causeway, tearing it behind him to make sure Finn couldn’t follow him.*

The current visitors’ center, which opened in 2012, is architecturally very well done (more at dezeen – check it out). It lies unobtrusively low to the ground, but its walls reflect the Causeway’s geological formation.

After our visit I kept seeing references to the Giant’s Causeway all over the place, and it seems to me it’s a symbol of Northern Ireland. This is a memento on display in the Belfast City Hall Museum. A bonus is that the six-sided columns (and in this case, six columns) can refer to the six counties of Northern Ireland.

I never made this connection, but the Giant’s Causeway is the setting for the cover of Led Zeppelin’s fifth studio album Houses of the Holy (1973). I loved this record in high school! Where’s that confounded bridge?

* From Anna Groves, A Souvenir Guide to the Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim (National Trust, 2016). The funny thing is that in recent times there really was a science vs. mythology dispute at the Causeway: some of the exhibits in the new visitors’ center, when it opened in 2012, gave a Young Earth creationist view of the site, soliciting praise from Answers in Genesis, and condemnation by Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins, et al. (Following a review, the creationist interpretation was downplayed.)