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SOME NOTES on MINING MYTHOLOGY

Published in: De Re Metalica, CIDEM, Turin, 1994.

Samten de Wet.

Precis:

"With every stage of technological culture relevant mythologies develop. With the Neolithic revolution came a completely new complex of myths and symbols associated with the cultivation of plants and animals. Likewise, we find the origin of many myths in the discovery of metallurgy. The central metaphor is this: metals "grow" in the womb of the earth. Ore that is extracted from caves and mines is a sort of "embryo" and must be "ripened." The skill of the metallurgist is likened to the wisdom of Mother Earth, that is, to the feminine powers of gestation. It is sacred knowledge; it is knowledge that transforms."

The following is a short sketch which will hopefully stimulate the reader to pursue further research and development of the themes suggested.

If we bear in mind that great archaeological discoveries such as Troy and The Palace of Knossos were found due to references unearthed in classical literary sources, there is no reason why the History of Mythology may not assist in the amplifications necessary to construct a History of Mining.The literature on mining technology is in any event, already vast.Here it is important to mention the crucial work by Mircea Eliade, 'The Forge and the Crucible' which contains vital bibliographical clues for further research.

According to the more progressive developments in the humanities and other sciences, there is a general tendency to move towards integrated studies. This would suggest to us that the History of Science and Technology should not be viewed separately from general History of Culture, and that we should not be afraid of stopping at this point, but include as well the history of Religion and Mythological Studies, to mention but a few disciplines that may have relative bearing.

This approach certainly applies to the History of Mining. For example, the disciple is worthless without some understanding of geography, or mineralogy, or a knowledge of the formations of the geological strata of the earth.These aspects we could catalogue under the Natural Sciences.

But at the point that the ores are extracted from the earth, the first technologies appear, the first intrusion into the body of Gaia has taken place.It should be no wonder therefore, that this act of mining the earth, should have birthed suitable mythologies.

And the process does not end here - for at this point we enter the cultural field of what I term the Workers in Metal, (or the Ores) - which manifested in a distinct technological culture, or techno-cultural tradition amongst the Blacksmiths.

Blacksmith Culture should not be viewed as distinct from the mining operations, though the specialization of labour may have eventually contributed to a division.Workers in Metal, and thus Workers in Fire, occupy a very special place in certain cultures.They are set apart from the social matrix, for example in Africa. This means that Blacksmith Culture developed its own folklore, mythology, within a distinct social stratification.

 

Could we speak of a `working-class' mythology? Certainly! There has been an unnatural hegemony, for example of High Classical Hellenic culture, and subsequently academia has tended to ignore folk religion, as well as other manifestations of the culture of the ordinary working class people. This situation has been receiving more attention in recent years.

 

Thus the special position of the blacksmith in the ancient world would demand attention. Mircea Eliade has done this in his book `The Forge and the Crucible'. For example, we initiate our arguement with the following quote:

 

"Iron industry was never important in Crete. Greek myths and legends of iron work in Crete are probably the result of a confusion between the Cretan Mount Ida and the Phyrgian mountain of the same name, where there was indeed a very strong iron industry." [1]

Strabo also comments on the two mountains of Ida. Where I disagree with Eliade, is that there was no 'confusion' between the two mountains. It is obvious the Cretan myths originated from ancient Phrygian sources, in other words, their homeland.

"According to tradition the art of metal-working was introduced to Crete by Hercules and the Telchines, but the abundance of works brought to light makes it clear that it drew its inspiration from models imported from many parts of the Near East and Hither Asia: from Cyprus, Syria, Phoenicia, Assyria..." Pierre Demargne.


A brief overview, shows the ancient roots of Metal culture in Anatolia.As early as 2300 B.C. Anatolian royal tombs are using gold, silver, copper and even iron at Alishar, Alaja Huyuk and Kultepe.

This pre-Hittite Bronze age civilization has affinities with Troy, Thermi on Lesbos; Poliochni on Lemnos.

Early Bronze Age Troy was the Capital of Western Anatolia and a thriving commercial centre.And who is to disprove that trade routes did not exist with Crete or even ancient Egypt?

Early Bronze Age Troy was the capital of Western Anatolia and a thriving commercial centre.

This period commenced about 3,000 B.C./ 2,700 until about 1900 B.C. 16.

It was at this time that Asiatic Chalcolithic metallurgical civilization is transmitted to the Aegean. Metal working begins in the Aegean. This is the period of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt, the Pyramids, the Old Kingdom.

"From their forges the Hittites sent iron in trade to customers in Egypt, Syria, Iran and the Phoenician cities of the Lebanese coast." Percy Knauth.

The Hittite Empire collapsed in ruins, at about 1200 B.C.At this point, the Phyrgians appear on the scene, they seem to have migrated from Thrace.

"It was a Troy that the main roads from Anatolia to the Aegean and to Europe intersected and it then played the part that was later to be Byzantium's at the other end of the strait.It was by way of Troy that the craft of metalworking was transmitted to the Greek islands and the Balkans..." Pierre Demargne.

Thus from this fragmentary sketch we can understand how the myths of iron working in Crete may be overlays from migratory patterns, that moved from Anatolia outward.


MOUNTAIN AND MOTHER

 But central to this enquiry, is of course, the Mountain.The Mythology of Mining is deeply connection to the Mythology of Mountains. And the Mountain is always associated with a Mother Goddess.

Kerenyi says:

"In Asia Minor, especially, Rhea was worshipped as METER ORIA, ` Mountain-Mother', to mention one of her many names, were almost always formed from the name of a mountain and indicated a relationship to a mountain landscape - such names as Berekynthia (Berecynthus), Dindymene, Idaia,"

Here, we have our Cretan Mount Ida, (Idaia) placed in proper perspective by Kerenyi.The Mountain Mother, as in the Phrygian Mount IDA, sacred to Kybele, must have been transferred to Cretan Minoan culture.

In Phrygia, this Great Mountain Mother, was known as Matar Kubile, which in Greek is Kybele/Cybele, and her origins can be traced even further East to Ishtar and Isis.

The Great Heights upon which Ishtar resides, sent streams of matriarchal influence down into the Valleys of the cradle of civilization, and eventually found excellent ambassador plenipotentiaries in the Phoenicians, who spread her worship far and wide through their sea commerce.


THE DWARFS AND MINING.

Amongst the wealth of material, there are two groups that I would like to isolate. The first is the Kabiri of Samothrace, and the second, the Telchines of Rhodes.

According to some opinions, the Kabiri originated in Asia-Minor.

"The worship of the Kabeiroi appears to have originated in north-western Asia-Minor, though various authorities mention other sites of their worship; still they appear to have been indigenous to Asia Minor." [2]

Dwarfs are always associated with mountainous landscapes.The Kabirian Mysteries may have moved with myths of the Great Mother Goddess, associated to Mountains, mines, and therefore metals, which after all, are removed from the Body of Mother Earth. From these ancient blacksmiths, chemistry and eventually Alchemy evolved.

The Carpathian, Taurus, Caucasians, Elburz and Zagros mountains were mining centres. The sacred mountains of Kybele in Phrygia are also connected with iron mines. Strabo, quoting the authority of Demetrius the Scepsian:

"...says that they (the Kabiri) are called Cabiri after Mt. Cabirus in Berecynthia..." [3]

Berecynthia, says Lempriere, is "...a surname of Cybele, from mount Berecynthus in Phrygia, where she was particularly worshipped. She has been celebrated in a poem by Catallus."

Here again, the Kabiri bring us back to the Mountain and the Mountain Goddess.


I am convinced that Blacksmith Culture was transmitted around the Mediterranean by small groups, or even individuals of journeying blacksmiths.From their elevated mountainous heights, and their subterranean mines, the journey-smiths received the ores that were then worked into the fabric of civilization. There are no mountains in the Nile Valley of ancient Egypt. And the Egyptian myths on Fire workers suggests that the "Blacksmiths" came from beyond the Nile Valley.

"Like birds of passage, the traders and smiths seeded cultures with their knowledge all along the routes of their travels." Percy Knauth.


TELCHINES

  The Telchines were metal-workers established at Rhodes before their diaspora to other centres. Thus, did the Pelasgians also convey the craft of metal-work, and the Mythology of the Workers with Fire?

Another crucial factor in Mining Mythology is the Volcano Factor. Samothrace, Rhodes, Lemnos, Imbros and Cyprus are mystery Islands, associated with volcanic formations, subterranean fire, and metal-work.

 

One such group, is the Telchines of Rhodes.Strabo has the following to say about them:

"In earlier times Rhodes was called Ophiussa and Stadia, and then Telchinis, after the Telchines, who took up their abode in the island. Some say that the Telchines are 'malingers" and " sorcerers", who pour the water of the Styx mixed with sulphur upon animals and plants in order to destroy them. But others, on the contrary say that since they excelled in workmanship they were "maligned" by rival workmen and thus received their bad reputation; and that they first came to Crete from Cyprus, and that they were the first to work iron and brass, and in fact fabricated the scythe for Cronos." [4]

Regarding the Cretan link to the Telchines:

"According to tradition the art of metal-working was introduced to Crete by Hercules and the Telchines, but the abundance of works brought to light makes it clear that it drew its inspiration from models imported from many parts of the Near East and Hither Asia: from Cyprus, Syria, Phoenicia, Assyria..." Demargne...

"Like Lemnos and Samothrace", says Decharme, "Rhodes, the birthplace of the Telchines, is an island of volcanic formation." [5]

As we gather more material before us, we see that the Telchines are associated with Athene, Minerva, Artemis, Rhea and Cybele. Why should metal-workers have such intimate relations with the Great Mother? Simply because they work within the body of Gaia, Mother Earth.

According to Strabo, the Telchines:

"...fabricated the scythe for Cronos." [6]

But Kerenyi says:

"The gigantic goddess Gaia...: ..."...quickly brought forth grey iron. She made a mighty sickle with sharp teeth, and took council with her sons." [7]

While the version in the Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology says:

"From her bosom she drew forth gleaming steel, fashioned a sharp sickle or harpe and explained to her children the plan she had made."

Whether it was the Great Mother Earth, Gaia, or her daughter , Rhea, Kybele,the Mother of the Gods, both pre-Olympian and post-Olympian, who bring forth the iron, or steel, or her Artificers and Fabricators, the point is, that the Kabiri, Telchines, etc. - are as Kerenyi puts it:

"...servants and instruments of the Great Mother,..." &c.

They exist and have their being not only within Her retinue, but within Her Body.We have a great deal of evidence on the links between the Kabiri and the Great Mother, Kybele.

"The cult of the World Mother and Mother Earth extends into the present form from the ethnic childhood of the Stone Age, which has survived for thousands of years among the pre-Aryan masses of the Indian peninsula. Stone Age civilization, elsewhere the rubble of archeology, is in India living reality." H. Zimmer.


Unfortunately we cannot go into further detail, for example, on the Myths of Ptah of Memphis of ancient Egypt, or the position of Hephaistos in Greek mythology, or Vulcan in the Roman period.This short survey, has been edited from an extensive collection of material, concentrating in particular on the Kabiri of Samothrace, which is being prepared for publication.

Samten de Wet.

Torino, May 1994.

...oooOOOooo...


ABSTRACT

  The History of Mythology may assist in the amplifications necessary to construct a History of Mining.

This would suggest to us that the History of Science and Technology should not be viewed separately from general History of Culture, and that we should not be afraid of stopping at this point, but include as well the history of Religion and Mythological Studies, to mention but a few disciplines that may have relative bearing.

The Workers in Metal, (or the Ores) - which manifested in a distinct technological culture, or techno-cultural tradition amongst the Blacksmiths.

Blacksmith Culture as distinct from the mining operations, though the specialization of labour may have eventually contributed to a division.Workers in Metal, and thus Workers in Fire, occupy a very special place in certain cultures.They are set apart from the social matrix, as in Africa. Blacksmith Culture developed its own folklore, mythology, within a distinct social stratification.

The posibility of a `working-class' mythology?

The Kabiri of Samothrace, and the Telchines of Rhodes.Dwarfs associated with mountainous landscapes, like the Great Mother Goddess, and to mines, and therefore metals, which are removed from the Body of Mother Earth. From these ancient blacksmiths, chemistry and eventually Alchemy evolved.


NOTES

 1 Eliade, Mircea, The Forge and the Crucible, p. 23, n.1.

 2 Walters, H.B. Odysseus and Kirke on a Beoatian Vase. Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol.13, 1892-3, pp.77-87.

 3 The Dorians were miners - for example, there may be a link to the River Dora.

 4 Strabo, vol.6,p.275.See also: Strabo,vol.5,pp.87,89,111.

5 Quote from Paul Decharme,`Mythologie de la Grece antique', p.271, Paris: 1879; in The Secret Doctine, .vol.ii.pp.390-391.

 6 Strabo, Vol.5, p.275.Loeb Classical Library edition in English.

 7 Kerenyi, 'The Gods of the Greeks', p. 18.