Document Sample
					                          Presented at the
        Society for Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting
                      Long Beach, California
                       Symposium 484, “Day of the Dead”
                                January 12, 2001.


                              Ronald V. May, RPA

SLIDE 1: Map of San Diego

SLIDE 2: Workers on Building 139

Amidst a billowing cloud of brick dust and flying debris, a cavity appeared
concealed behind the finely mortared fire hearth. The construction team had
just demolished 20-feet of chimney and began removing the yellow-tan fire
bricks, when the façade tumbled down. Vaguely familiar shapes slowly
emerged as the dust settled. Pulling down the last of the façade, the
workman removed a scuffed old Army boot and a Spanish American War
campaign hat. This May 1998 discovery at U.S. Army Fort Rosecrans is the
first reported evidence of a ritual magic concealment feature in a Euro-
American historic context in California.

SLIDE 3: Campaign hat

SLIDE 4: Boot

A flurry of thirty-three Email messages between archaeologists, historians, architects and
folk lore specialists in 1999 revealed a thousand-year old pagan tradition of spirit ward
concealment in European American societies. This spiritual practice survived centuries of
Christianity and bridged the Atlantic Ocean with the earliest European settlers in North
America (June Swann 1999). Investigation of vestigial pagan folk practices in Europe
and America has been stonewalled by various academic and governmental institutions
which totally deny survival of pagan beliefs and practices in modern times.

SLIDE 5: Soldiers wearing campaign hats
Survival of pagan spiritual traditions from ancient to modern times is not well
documented, but Egyptian scholar XXX Murray researched the issue in England through
oral history and concluded some families continued the Old Ways well into the 1920s.
Traditional British scholars roundly challenged her evidence with religious skepticism.
Forty years later, folklorist George Ewart Evans produced well documented evidence of
Anglian pagan practices that lasted until the end of World War I.

Surprisingly, many contemporary American historic archaeologists outright dismiss
architectural concealments as trash dumps or pack rat haunts (Dan Weiskotten 1999;
Richard H. Kimmel 1999). For example, William White stated in a 1999 Email, “I
cannot perceive of a human behavior or cultural practice that would necessitate the
placement of such abandoned items in the interior of ovens, (thus) it must be associated
with critter activity” (William White 1999).

In spite of these denials, evidence for post-Christian pagan ritual features has been
accumulating in historic and archaeological contexts for the past 60 years. Scholars in
Wales, Anglia and Australia have documented over 1550 architectural and archaeological
sites with pagan folk magic features. A growing number of similar discoveries along the
Eastern Seaboard of the United States mirror the chimney concealment of the Fort
Rosecrans Army boot and hat. These data present convincing evidence of continued
pagan practices in households over the past 200 years.

Following presentation of an earlier version of this paper at the 1999 Society for
California Archaeology Conference in Riverside, California, Betsy Lawlor forwarded
the Hatchtown Farm Yarn Internet Website, which reported a “pair of old black leather
shoes on the chimney behind the lath and plaster” of a 19 th century farmhouse in
Maryland. Although the owners of Hatchtown did not understand their find, they
reverently replaced the shoes during remodeling and reported the discovery on their

SLIDE 6: Soldier with trombone

The question then arose, how could a British pagan ritual be performed during the 1904
construction of a U.S. Army barracks at Fort Rosecrans in San Diego, California? The
ethnic roots of late 19 th and early 20th century America provide the strongest evidence for
cultural linkage. The 1904 muster roles for Fort Rosecrans report more than 15% of the
soldiers were born in Scotland, Ireland or England. More than 40% of the soldiers came
from the Eastern seaboard of the United States. Any one of these men who worked for
the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps could have quietly bricked-in the boot and hat during
construction of the chimney.

A major problem lies in the massive reorganization of the U.S. Army in the 1902 to 1904
period to create the Coast Artillery Corps from field artillery, infantry, and raw recruits.
This new corps drew thousands of soldiers from all over America to carry out President

Theodore Roosevelt’s new vision of sea coast defense. Next to nothing is known of the
soldiers’ ethnic and religious demographics.

Just as clearly, American scholars totally dismissed a cultural continuum of pagan folk
religious practices in North America. The theme of Christian religious supremacy versus
pagan superstition can be found in any history textbook. Anthropologists have largely
ignored European and British immigrant groups, while focusing on Native American and
African religious devotions. Thus, there is little documented record to explain the
cleverly concealed campaign hat and boot in the Fort Rosecrans enlisted barracks

However, Email messages from New England and London museums identified the
practice as a survival of a 1000-year old pre-Christian pagan religious ritual. Peter
Oakley of the Old Strubridge Village Museum stated,

       “The practice of concealing footwear is a very old British custom… done to ward
       off evil spirits and for good luck. Footwear may be found behind chimneys, under
       floorboards and behind walls. Sometimes, the shoes have been cut up with a seed
       pod placed inside the shoe. In the United Kingdom, shoes have been sealed up in
       walls with cats and chickens … often the animals were alive when the walls were
       sealed!” (Peter Oakley 1999)

Daria E. Merwin reported, “A smoked cat and an old shoe were hidden behind a circa
1810 chimney at the Terry-Mulford House in Orient, Long Island, New York.” John
Carman added that, “In an early 17 th century context in Ely, Cambridgshire, two
Elizabethan children’s shoes were found in a house chimney… to ward off witches.”

George Ewart Evans, in Pattern Under The Plough (1966) wrote of the folk life roots of
this practice in East Anglia, United Kingdom:

       The hearth is the center of the household and the home, the place where the
       family gathers when it is most characteristically a family, a group united by blood
       and common interest. The hearth and its fire were once sacred… the sanctity
       linked with ancestor worship and stems from the ancient custom among Romans
       and other nations of burying their dead in their houses. The dead’s spirits…
       hovered around the house to protect the family….the hearth’s association with
       witchcraft stems partly from this ancient legacy… under the hearth was the spot
       most frequently chosen to bury the witch-bottle, a device designed to act as a
       repellent against witches. (Evans 1966: 74)

Just as American archaeologists are fascinated with ancient rock art, English and Welsh
archaeologists have been surveying old communities in search of witch bottles and other
magic wards and tokens. But these British scholars have yet to prove a continuum into
modern times. This is a problem that can only be resolved by clearly developing a series
of pagan ritual magic feature constructions into the present time.

One early discovery of pagan ritual magic concealments in New England was a “witch
bottle” found buried under a door lintel while conducting archaeological salvage
excavations. This bottle of pins has been widely discussed at conferences across the

Witch bottles differ from other kinds of concealments in that the artifact is clearly a post-
16th century Christian device to keep evil out of households. Joseph Glanvil provided oral
history of an event in 1689 where the cure for witch evil involved the following:

       Take your wife’s urine… and cork it in a bottle with nails, pins and needles and
       bury it in the earth… (Evans 1966: 76)

June Swann has documented over 1550 shoe concealments in Europe, North America and
Australia and published her work in the Journal of Costume Society (Swann 1996: 56-
69). Swann added the Fort Rosecrans concealment to the Northampton Museum Index.
Additionally, Swann reported “spiritual middens” which received offerings for over a
period of 200 years.

Concealment of shoes dates further back in time, to at least the 14 th century (Ibid.). Ralph
Merrifield links this tradition to a 1 st century A.D. Roman practice of burying horse skulls
at Bourton Grounds, Cloucestershire, England as libations to appease the gods of the
earth (Merrifield 1987: 186-187).

The Romans and Celts believed all the earth, rocks and plants to be the domain of gods
and goddesses. Construction of homes, foundation excavation, and movement of rocks
disrupted the harmony of those gods. During those early centuries, Romans and Celts
conducted rituals and buried horse skulls, bottles of wine and other personal objects as
libations and protections against angry deities (Merrifield 1987: 184-196). These ritual
pits later included perfectly serviceable possessions, such as swords, sewing tools and
coins that were ritually bent. When the Romans departed, Celtic and later Christian
people extended those rituals of votive burial

The spread of Christianity between the 4 th and 10th centuries triggered changes in the
meaning of the rituals. The shift from appeasing benevolent gods to warding-off
horrifying evil spirits is directly tied to the rise of Christianity. Merrifield proposed that
damage to Roman statuary and the practice of shooting arrows at crucifixes corresponded
to older votive prayers for invulnerability in combat and noted that legs, arms and heads
of statues and crucifixes are found in votive pits well into the Middle Ages (Merrifield
1987: 191). A vestigial ritual in Catholic churches to this day are the tiny brass and silver
“Milagros” that are pinned to saints’ statues for healing and answering prayers.

This fundamental spiritual shift 1000 years ago is crucial to understanding the meaning of
the boot and hat in the chimney at Fort Rosecrans. Prior to Christianity, English and
Welsh people believed in benevolent gods and goddesses who could be appeased by
ritual and libation. These deities were perceived in positive images. Christianity re-
shaped those images as evil flying demons who could slip inside homes during sleep and

cause sickness or death. By the 13 th century, former goddesses were feared as demons. by
the 16th century, the Christian church renamed them as “witches” and their magic as

This subtle philosophical shift did not deny the existence of Celtic gods and goddesses,
only that they were really spawn of the devil to be feared. For the most part, rituals no
longer offered libations to the gods and goddesses. A rise in rituals to ward off “evil”
demons and witchcraft rose steadily through the past thousand years.

Archaeologists in Europe have been loathe to lend credence to pagan ritual in the last 100
years. Historians across the Atlantic long believed Christianity stamped out folk belief in
Roman and Celtic gods and goddesses. Merrifield commented:

       There is a considerable amount of prejudice to be overcome among both
       excavators and interpretive archaeologists before we can make much progress
       towards the “archaeology of the mind” in matters of belief….Yet, the uneasily
       ambivalent attitude of many archaeologists towards manifestations of belief or
       customary ritual is itself of considerable interest and demands further explanation.
       (Merrifield 1987: 3)

He further commented that archaeologists seem contented with researching “ancient
technology,” but feel greatly uncomfortable acknowledging more recent belief in pagan
deities or ritual features. Indeed, even the recent Emails concerning boots, bottles and
bent pins in fire hearths reflect ritual phobia among many archaeologists.

Both Evans and Merrifield provide substantial evidence for continued folk traditions in
ritual magic in the British Commonwealth and North America. Distinguishing between
old practices and new may prove difficult, as immigrants from former Soviet nations are
a new source of the pagan continuum. While discussing the thesis for this presentation to
officers of the San Diego County Archaeological Society at a Greek restaurant last
Spring, the waitress identified herself as a Hungarian immigrant and stated that she places
straw “witches” in her kitchen to ward off evil. Interestingly, a second waitress related a
motorcycle club tradition of hanging small bells on the handlebars to keep ghosts away.

Today, museums throughout England, Anglia, Wales, Scotland and Ireland are actively
researching the continuation of pagan ceremonies, rituals and spiritual belief. The focus
has been on the past 150 years, in which a great deal of written oral history has been

For example, the Museum of Welsh Life has teams of archaeologists who actively visit
rural homes to document the discovery of (1) horse skulls and bones, (2) shoes, (3)
mummified cats, (4) witch bottles, (5) written charms and curses, and (6) charms or
amulets placed in buildings to ward off evil, rats and insects.

Robin Gwyndaf, Assistant Keeper of the Department of Folklore, Museum of Welsh
Life, recently sent me an article reporting the discovery of a child’s leather boot

concealed in the fire hearth of a 150-year old building in Wales (Gwyndaf 1999).
Additionally, the museum uses forms similar to American rock art documentation to
record such discoveries. Larch Garrad refers to bones and shoes as “House Charms” on
the Isle of Man, where organic objects were said to assume former spiritual form to
protect houses (Garrad 1989). He cited dog and human bones placed beneath house
foundations or in chimneys to protect the residents with spiritual protectors.

Of considerable interest in Wales are concealed horse skulls under floors or in the walls
of houses. Miranda Green documented over 1000 years of religious folklore concerning
horses as boundary images and for spiritual protection (Green 1997: 1-22). Gwyndaf sent
numerous newspaper articles on the subject, unfortunately printed in Welsh (Ebenezer
1982; Jones 1996: 39-43).

Ancient pagan practices linger to this day in the British Commonwealth, as “the proper
thing to do.” Merrifield documented the evolution of the “Cult of the Blessed Dead” in
English cemeteries at which intimacy with the dead, through bones, became “a great well
of psychological power” to intercede with the spirit world (Merrifield 1987: 82).

Swann explained the rationale for selecting a heavily worn soldier’s boot for the
concealment in the Fort Rosecrans chimney lies in the spiritual connection with the
object. The folk belief follows that the leather boot took on the spiritual essence and
personality of the wearer, thus becoming a potent spirit force (Swann 1999). The goal of
the ritual is to install an object, such as the campaign hat and boot, that will grow a mirror
of the original spirit to guard over the household. In essence, the soldier’s boot and hat
spawned a mirror of his own spirit to protect both the chimney and those soldiers who
lived and worked in the Army barracks. Or, as the title of this paper implies, a soldier in
the chimney.

SLIDE 7: Fireplace mantle (soldier superimposed woud be better)

The cultural implications for anthropological archaeologists and architectural historians
working in North American are enormous. European immigrants brought more than the
clothes on their backs to this new land. They brought formal religions and a rich tapestry
of folk beliefs. Some immigrants brought pagan ritual magic traditions that span more
than a thousand years and bridge the Atlantic. Archaeologists should rethink every bottle,
bone, coin, jar, hat and boot concealed inside and under historic buildings. For, the boot
you find might house the spirit who guarded the house you are studying.

(References not available at this time)


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