Category Archives: history

Bonus Post: The White Horse of Uffington

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Hi, this is Mr. Folklore. Mr. Nature dragged me out of the broom closet to tell you about this.

The Uffington White Horse adorns a hilltop in Oxfordshire, England. It’s some 300 feet long (sorry, I don’t go in for that metric stuff), and was made by digging its shape about three feet into the earth and filling the trenches with crushed chalk. And the people in the area, for hundreds of years, periodically clear it of vegetation and replenish the chalk.

Legend has the White Horse connected with King Alfred, but it was already a thousand years old when Alfred came along. No one knows who created it, or why. Boundary marker? Propaganda? Religious symbol? In the absence of written records, it’s anybody’s theory. All that can be said for sure is that the horse has been there since long before the Romans came to Britain. Its artistic style, though, resembles the somewhat abstract depiction of horses on pre-Roman British coins.

Before there were airplanes, the best way to see the horse was from another hilltop. No one has yet suggested that the horse was carved into the top of a hill so that aliens could see it from their spacecraft. I will not be the first to make that suggestion.

A Natural Marvel? The Blowing Stone

Hi, Mr. Nature here, tackling this report because Mr. Folklore took the noon balloon.

The “Blowing Stone” of Kingston Lisle, Oxfordshire, England, is a rather large boulder with holes in it. One of the holes goes all the way through. And if you blow on it, as on a trumpet, the resulting call can be heard for miles around.

The hole through the stone is apparently due to natural causes. I don’t know how anyone would have ever thought, “I wonder what would happen if I blew on this.” Maybe a freak twist of the wind made it sound, and someone was there to observe it. There’s a legend that whoever blew on the stone so that it could be heard from a famous hilltop, some miles away, would be the next king of England. There’s also a legend that says King Alfred blew on the stone to summon his warriors to fight the invading Danes.

It’s near the White Horse of Uffington, but really, Mr. Folklore will have to field that one, it’s way beyond Mr. Nature’s scope.

Today the Blowing Stone rests beside the Blowing Stone Inn. It was brought there from another location sometime in the 18th century, and first appeared on a map in 1761.

We often talk about the music made by nature, with God as its conductor; but this is the first I’ve heard of a natural musical instrument.

Unless you want to count the “ringing rocks.” But that’s another story.

An Unusual Assignment for Me–and Maybe You Can Help

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Some of you know me as the contributing editor for The Chalcedon Foundation’s print magazine, Faith for All of Life. For a coming issue of the magazine, I have taken on the task of reviewing, of all things, an Agatha Christie mystery novel–Curtain, Hercule Poirot’s last case.

Christie wrote the novel during World War II and then locked it away in a bank vault, waiting until 1975 to have it published–an unusual procedure which, to my mind, has not been fully explained. Why wait 30 years to publish it?

My review will focus on a single scene in the novel: a dinner. All the characters are seated around the table, and the conversation turns to the topic of what ought to be done with–or to–people who are no longer “valuable to society”–the old, the sick, the retarded, etc. Remember that this was being written during World War II, with Britain fighting for its very life against the Third Reich.

At the table, the more forceful characters declare that people who “don’t matter anymore” ought to be disposed of, somehow. And everyone else just sort of meekly nods and mumbles “of course you’re right,” etc.

When I read that, my hair stood on end. “Whoa! Uh, folks, you’re, like, fighting for survival against the Nazis, and the Nazis, well–they stand for the very ideas that you’re bandying about and tepidly agreeing with! Why are you fighting Hitler and Himmler, and at the same time talking like them?” I was astonished.

Although the novel was written during the war–and we are told that Christie feared she might be killed in a German bombing raid or V-2 strike, which is why she stowed the book in a bank vault, just in case–its setting in time is left quite vague. There’s nothing in it to show in what year, or era, the fictional events occurred.

Why this conversation at the dinner table? Christie often drew her fictional characters from life. It seems more than likely that she had heard such conversations among people she knew, either during the war or just before it. She was writing about certain ideas that certain people, who were not Nazis, actually had. One is left wondering: can it be said that Britain really won the war, if key elements of Nazi ideology were left festering in British culture? What was happening to Britain’s Christianity?

I also wonder what other Curtain readers think of this. Tell me if you like. I’d love to know.


Babbling about Babel

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My wife watched a documentary on youtube yesterday, nicely produced, forcefully argued, about the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), and purporting to offer “proof” that the Bible narrative is historically accurate.

Only problem was, the documentary was all wet. They just went on and on about buildings erected by Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon thousands of years after the Tower of Babel, with apparently no awareness that they were conflating two totally unrelated stories. Not even a suspicion of it.

I would guess this film cost a lot of money to produce and involved a lot of people in the production. Did nobody know anything at all about the Bible? Did it never occur to anyone involved to at least read the relevant chapters of the Bible before launching into this festival of ignorance? Did nobody ever speak up and say, “Uh, guys, these are two different stories we’re talking about here–and they’re thousands of years apart”?

Well, you know what they say about the Internet as a source of information–sometimes it can be great, but there is no quality control.

Just to make things worse, all the comments following the film pointed out the yawning chasm of error into which it had fallen. Apparently every person who saw it knew the Bible better than the filmmakers. I think we can be thankful for that!

It just makes you wonder why anybody would ever go to the trouble of producing a documentary when they had no idea what they were talking about. Not even the feeblest effort was made to get at the facts. I don’t think the filmmakers even guessed they were dealing in sheer ignorance.

How much else of what we see is pure twaddle?

‘Nameless Portraits on a Colossal Scale’ (2014)

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Let’s hear it for the Olmecs of southern Mexico–another civilization with great achievements to its credit, but nevertheless consigned to oblivion.

Point this, this has happened to any number of civilizations; and it could happen to ours. We don’t know what the Olmecs did to make their civilization disappear–but we can see with our own eyes what we’re doing to make ours disappear.

What in the World is This?

This is the Narmer Palette from ancient Egypt, dated to about 3150 B.C.–insofar as anything that old can be dated with any degree of certainty. The scholarly consensus is 3150 B.C., but consensus is not quite the same thing as solid fact.

Narmer–we think!–was the first king of a unified Egypt, and this siltstone palette, about two feet high, memorializes him and his achievement. Both sides are illustrated, but only the side shown above is our subject for today. We’re talking around 3150 B.C., and already the Egyptian hieroglyphics are in use and can be read, and certain artistic conventions, which would persist for three millenia, are already in place. There must have been a long period of learning and development in Egypt before this artifact was created. Going how far back, we do not know.

But getting down to business, check out the middle section of the palette–the two strange beasts with long necks intertwined, and wranglers controlling them with halters. Look at them closely. What are they?

The consensus (here we go again!) is that these are imaginary animals that probably meant something, once upon a time, in ancient Egyptian iconography, but whose meaning has been lost over time.

But when you took a good look at those creatures, did the word “dinosaur” pop into your head?

Oh, but that’s absurd! Those animals have external ears, and dinosaurs didn’t!

Didn’t they? Ears are soft tissue. The chances of external ears surviving as fossils are so small as to be virtually zero. If some dinosaurs had external ears, we wouldn’t know it.

Yeah, but the faces! They look much more like lion or leopard faces–not dinosaurs.

Oh? Suddenly we know what all dino faces looked like?

It occurs to me that there was a sauropod dinosaur in Africa called Vulcanodon, which was just about the same size, relative to the human wranglers, as the creatures on the palette. No skull of Vulcanodon has ever been found, so we can have no idea what its face looked like.

Consider: If elephants did not exist today, and no one had ever seen one, or even a picture of one, what would any scientist think, who found a fossilized elephant skull? Would he ever deduce the elephant’s trunk? They like to say they would, but we are at liberty not to believe them.

Ancient Egyptians routinely and realistically portrayed many animals in their art, and even in Narmer’s time, had zoos. So there are really only two choices, in regard to the long-necked beasts on the Narmer Palette.

Either they are imaginary, or they’re not.

And if they’re not… what are they?

When the King is an Idiot…

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What do you do when your head of state has no more sense than God gave an umbrella stand?

I’ve been reading, in Thomas Costain’s The Three Edwards, the frustratingly shameful history of Edward II, the biggest blithering idiot ever to rule Britain, which he did, sort of, from 1307 to 1327, when his barons finally took away his throne and then killed him in a singularly unpleasant way. For twenty years this guy did nothing but make the same bonehead mistakes over and over again, some of which were exceedingly harmful to his country.

In this we see an acute problem in politics that recurs throughout history. Even today there are more than a few countries that haven’t found a solution to this problem. At least in America a president can only serve for eight years, and then he’s gone. We survived Jimmy Carter. We even survived Obama.

Edward’s favorite idiocy was to select some other fool as a favorite, load him with honors and riches, allow him to get away with blatant capers that would have been beneath the dignity of a court jester, disrupt the government, waste money, and eventually push the nobles and the general public to such a point of sheer exasperation that their only remedy was to grab the guy and kill him. And after twenty years of this, they finally did the same to the king.

Yes, it would have been worse had Edward been not only a prize chowderhead, but also a malicious tyrant a la Pol Pot, Hugo Chavez, and never mind listing all the rest of them, it would take all day. And we see from history that, once you’ve got a real putz in the driver’s seat, it’s not so easy to get rid of him.

We should be thankful, very thankful, that our own country was founded by men who knew history and tried their utmost not to repeat its worst mistakes, and who blessed us with laws that have, so far, ensured a peaceful and orderly transition from one presidential administration to the next–a blessing which Democrats seem eager to revoke.

It took England some 700 years to learn this lesson. Pray we in America never have to re-learn it.

Oh, Boy! ‘Cleopatra’ Remake to be ‘Dirty’


As she really was…

Cleopatra, last of the Ptolemy family to rule Egypt, lover of Julius Caesar, then Marc Antony, who moved Shakespeare to write, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety,” is going to be the subject of a brand-new remake of the 1963 epic starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

And the producers have promised to make the new Cleopatra “dirty, bloody, and [with] lots of sex.” (

You wonder where your audience went…

Gee, a dirty movie full of sex and violence! Whatever will they think of next? You just gotta had it to them “creatives” in Hollywood–always five steps ahead of the curve.

Cleopatra was a fascinating figure in history, a woman who inherited a virtually impossible political situation and yet aimed high, so very high, gambling to win: a character in which shrewdness and folly dwelt together: whose legend moved Plutarch to write that a woman doesn’t really show her best stuff until she’s over 50. I would love to see a movie or a series that took her seriously, and conscientiously tried to tell her story: because it’s a great story.

But trust Hollywood to soil anything it touches.

Would You Rather Be King of England, or…?

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Suppose Edward IV–a real mensch, and star of the War of the Roses, who later allowed himself to get all bloated and depraved–were not strictly legitimate; and that, accordingly, he being tainted, all succeeding kings and queens of England were just as illegitimate, and technically and by law and custom, had no actual right to the throne.

But Edward’s younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence, was every inch legitimate; and if Edward IV is ruled out, then George and his children rightfully come into possession of the throne. But of course that didn’t happen. Henry VIII was still murdering George Plantagenet’s descendants well into the following century: nevertheless, the line has survived into the present day.

In one of those neat “Timeline” documentaries, they found “the rightful king of England,” according to all the rules governing such things. It’s a man who lives in a small town in Australia, who has children and grandchildren, a house and car, a job, and friends. He already knew about his Plantagenet descent, but was extremely happy where he was, content with who he was, and much too busy enjoying the life he had to worry about the life he might’ve had, had things turned out otherwise 500 years ago. Indeed, he wouldn’t trade his own house for twenty Windsor Castles.

There is a lesson here. This man in Australia was blessed, and wise enough to know it. Indeed, a normal, comfortable, middle-class life is in itself a great blessing, a gift of God: and throughout history, most of the time, a gift but rarely given. In Edward IV’s time, you were either rich and powerful–a very small minority!–or poor and mostly wretched. It wasn’t until well into the 20th century that a middle class came into being, in most countries.

Would you really want to be the king or queen? Always on display, an endless round of ceremony and flapdoodle, you can’t just go fishing on your day off, if you ever even have a day off–I mean, for this they fought the Wars of the Roses, and other wars, and all those people died? For this they spent several centuries drawing and quartering each other?

We who have wound up in the middle class have an awful lot to be thankful for–and a great responsibility, not to fritter it away. It took a long, long time to create the middle class; and hardly any time at all to destroy it.

‘In Search of Merlin’ (2014)

Sometimes being a scholar means you can just say any old thing you want, and still get it published.

Go ahead–try and track down Merlin somewhere in the wilderness of history, with Professor Norma Lorre Goodrich as your guide. Hoo, boy!

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