“An Image, Frozen In Time” – What Pazyryk Scythian Tombs Can Tell Us About Our Indo-European Ancestors

This is quite simply one of the most chad-looking images I have seen; a representation of one of the Scythian nobles buried at Pazyryk in the Siberian East, about two and a half thousand years ago.

Now, the Pazyryk find itself is quite fascinating – in no small part because the freezing of the site meant that various of the more perishable soft material was uniquely well preserved. This included much of the skin of the Scythians thusly interred, and therefore consequentially many of their fabulous tattoos – detailed reproductions of which can be seen cascading down this chap’s shoulders and arms.

There are various other important cultural ‘windows’ preserved in the Pazyryk barrows as well, of course; which help to tell us not only about the culture directly responsible for these impressive burials – but also about who and where they were themselves in cultural contact with at about the same time.

These include fine textiles such as Chinese silks and what’s often regarded as some of the earliest ‘proper’ carpet still in existence (probably from western Persia), but also Greek-origin (or at least, influenced) masks, ‘wild silk’ products likely from India, and the list goes on. The overarching impression is that concentrated in these burials and therefore in the hands of the aristocracy thusly preserved therein, was wealth and abundance drawn from literally all across Eurasia. Fitting, given that that’s basically the area under Indo-European in general, and in its easterly inclinations, Satem- / Andronovo , and eventually “Scythian” transitory dominion.

As applies the elements more directly relevant to the ‘Pazyryk’ Scythians themselves, there are some artefacts which are pretty unsurprising – like the cheese-pouch, collapsible tables (pretty handy for a nomad), and of course, the fantastically detailed headwear [at least one item of which appears to have been worn by a warrior in his final battle, given the direct correspondence between damage to it and his evidently-fatal headwound].

There are also other discoveries from Pazyryk, that we would perhaps not be expecting – like the fake beards (made with real human hair).

We often have the idea of “barbarians” as being impressively bearded specimines – indeed it is right there in the word’s “barb-” component in our subconscious association – probably due to earlier Classical civilization’s aesthetic conventions upon the subject [it’s why Roman busts are rarely depicted with significant facial hair; as with the notable exceptions of men like Hadrian and occasional periods wherein the ‘rough man’ look was supposed to be “in” as a sign of power and virility (consider Commodus’ bearded depiction when LARPing as Hercules), it just wasn’t considered the couth thing to have] … yet not only are the men of the Pazyryk burials clean-shaven, but we find a fake beard amongst their remains. This may, perhaps, lie someways towards the root of the curiously contradictory Greek accountings of the Scythians in relation to ‘masculinity’ – as the Greeks, in contrast to the Romans, considered a beardless man to be often almost a contradiction in terms, and also passed on some rather odd remarks about allegedly ‘cross-dressing’ Scythian classes. It was usually assumed by later commentators that this was the result of the Greeks being unfamiliar with more easterly robes and likening these to female clothing ; but perhaps it was instead because of some Scyths seeming to swap between being fully-bearded [thanks to the fakes] and therefore seriously masculine, through to clean-shaven and therefore (in the Greeks’ eyes) rather feminine. But I digress.

One of the more unsurprising sets of elements to these tombs, was the presence of cannabis and associated tools for its consumption. Including a full-scale tent. Not for the growing of cannabis (although seeds were found amidst the funerary goods), but rather for inhalation purposes. I have often remarked that the usage of cannabis as a mind-altering substance is up there with Milk [specifically, the tolerance thereof] as a hallmark of Indo-European cultures … but it now appears, only slightly to my surprise, that the concept of the Hot-Box (wherein, rather than simply filling one’s lungs with the smoke, one fills an entire space with it while physically inside) is indeed Veer-y Indo-European as well.

But the feature of the find which keeps me coming back and firing my imagination is actually none of these things, impressive though some of them seriously are [and in future postings, I intend to examine some of these, especially the tattoos, in greater depth and detail].

Instead, it’s what the Horse is wearing. He’s dressed up as something superficially resembling a reindeer. One of several styles of horse-headgear found at these tombs; the others including considerably more ornate ‘Gryphonic’ motifs – speculated, in those cases, to perhaps represent the symbolic transformation of the horses thusly buried into Griffins who would bear their riders off into the afterlife, riding up toward the Steppe of Stars amidst the Milky Way.

But to return to the ‘reindeer’ antlers – there are several saliencies to potentially be explored with this. We know that the reindeer was an important animal for various Indo-European peoples of the northerly climes in a more mundane sense related to the products derived therefrom (indeed, it still is – my Swedish forebears held some association with them, and have passed down to us fine carving made from and representative of just such a specimine from their herds); but we also know that the stag and reindeer held significant symbolic importance to the various Indo-European peoples, the Scythians in particular, as well.

Indeed, so prominent is the ‘Golden Stag’ motif amidst Scythian and other related archaeological finds, that we often hear of the “Golden Stag of Eurasia” as a sort of emblem for the peoples and the lifestyle contained therein.

But what intrigues me is not so directly its saliency within Scythian representations, as the fairly strongly coterminous occurrences of this and closely (visually) related animals in other, neighbouring Indo-European mythoreligious cultural expressionism.

A modern example of which, shall be immediately familiar to you – Santa Claus’ sleigh is pulled by what? The names of said steeds being, per the German folk-memory of such things, Storm terms … Donner, Blitzen, etc. – and perhaps recollecting the shape of forking lightning amidst the branching curvature of the reindeer’s antlers.

Naturally, this is #NAS – as not only is Santa Clause often regarded as a sort of dimly remembered representation of Odin, but we also find mention of Odin’s Hindu occurrences (and acolytes/imitators/devotees). Vayu(-Vata), the Wind Lord (Whose Name is almost directly coterminous with that of Woden-dev) rides a Gazelle or an Antelope; Chandra, rides an Antelope (or in a chariot pulled thereby); Shiva, too [but then, I repeat myself thrice], has strong and recurrent Deer associations; and there are also recurrent citations within the Hymns of the RigVeda for the Maruts [“Rudra’s Sons”] riding forth on “Spotted Deer”, or Chariots pulled by same [particularly in immediate association with the Maruts’ Storm-Front role, charging into combat amidst pelting rain and hurled Thunderbolts of laughing lightning].

[There is a discursion here around the depiction of the Fire-Sacrifice and certain of piety’s relevant associations in terms of a Deer or Antelope, but we shall leave that for another time, I think]

Now it would be tempting to simply approach all of the above via an euhemeric point of view – I have already stated some of the reasoning for why a reindeer may be linked to a sky-storm (and there is a yet-further recollection of this perhaps evident in the stag at the top of Yggdrasil in Nordic cosmology) above, and the fleet swiftness of an antelope, a gazelle, especially with their leaping motion, makes for obvious symbolic correlate with the speed and far-ranging-ness of the Wind (as would, as it happens, reindeer migration, perhaps).

Put this all together, and it would be almost surprising if various Hindu deific-representations associated with tempest and furor were not to be found in the company of such creatures as Their vahanas. And you could then just simply suggest that the Scythians with their fake-beards and fake-antlers (gosh, perhaps the modern ‘traditions’ around Father Christmas featuring a local man (often a civic luminary or pillar of the community) in a fake-beard and putting antlers on a dog have been more unintentionally resonant than we know!) were engaged in a far more religiously resonant early-example of the kind of people who clothe their cats in pop-culture relevant onesies.

PERISH THE THOUGHT!

There are occasions wherein certain features dug up by archaeologists can indeed be suggested to be perhaps less meaningful than we might otherwise presume. [There is a particular burial, to the West of Pazyryk near the Volga, at Potapovka and from about two millennia earlier; featuring a horse head upon a human body, which I am thinking of directly here – it was hailed at the time of its discovery as being likely representation of a mythic occurrence also recorded the RigVeda, wherein the head of the sage Dadhyanc is temporarily swapped with that of a Horse for safety during the transmission of a specific sacred knowledge … only for it to subsequently turn out that the addition of the horse head to proceedings was perhaps a thousand years later, raising the possibility which has not been ruled out that what we had initially presumed to be a resonancy of profound religious significance … may, in point of fact, have been the post-Proto-Indo-Iranian equivalent of “Just A Prank, B(h)r(ata/o)”]

Yet I absolutely do not think that all of these co-occurrences of antlered steeds for the lords of Sky and Storm are simple co-incidence. Either in terms of the direct correspondence, as we have come to expect, between Hindu and Germanic elements as applies the myth; or in terms of the seeming mortal (in multiple senses of the word) expression of the same principle amidst the major culture existing directly between these Two.

Rather, what is going on here is that the Scythians have, as was their seeming custom, preserved something veer-y ancient indeed, from far further back in time than the 4th century B.C. datings for some of the Pazyryk tombs would perhaps imply.

As I noted in GHOST DIVISION – indeed, as formed the central conclusion of that piece – the reason that Odin with His Wild Hunt, as well as various expressions of Rudra and His Son and Sons (Skanda, the Rudras, Maruts, Vratyas, etc.) are depicted as mounted warriors, and often quite pointedly [pun, retrospectively intended/enabled] as horse archers and/or lancers (equipped with spears) … is not simply because They are associated with the Wind and its Swiftness.

But rather, because They are also irreducibly linked to the Breath of Life and our Quickness.

They are remembered as our Ancestors … because that is, in a general sense, exactly what They are. Thundering Hooves (see what I did there?), Flashing Spears, Clouds and Rains of Arrows (to be sure, a somewhat later development), moving Swift as the Wind across the Steppe – whether Pontic, Central Asian (Sintashta or otherwise), or of Sky. Even Riding Out amidst the Stars Themselves when joined by the greatest of the departed from our communities down to this veer-y day.

The Scythians instinctively knew this. And so, they represented their own war-horses and metempsychotic mounts (perhaps this, too, has ‘echoes’ in Sleipnir’s being ridden down to Hel and back – a horse so incredibly swift it can evade the permanence of the Deathly realm for the rider thereupon) as being like what we recall in our own more immediately well-attested mythologies as the Steeds of these Storm-Front Sires.

The impression one must come away with upon having viewed these magnificent and visually striking horse-adornments, is that they weren’t simply there because they looked strange and intimidating in and of themselves. But rather because the associations within the minds of the Scythians themselves, and no doubt of many of their immediate prey and/or foes, was that the charge and the harrowing maneuvers of the Scythian cavalry … was a symbolic referencing – an Eternal Return-ing, even – of that of the War-Host of the War-Lord Himself!

[Hence, in two-and-a-half-fold measure the Zoroastrian antipathy towards the Turanian – not simply because of many of these representing a dire and direct existential threat to the early Zoroastrian community in a military sense; but also because they were so closely archetypally and visually associated with the Gods Whom the Zoroastrians were at pains to demonize where they could not suppress. The Turanians are recorded as having taken an exceptionally dim view of Zoroaster’s religious “reforms”, and waged war upon him and his followers because of this. The Steppe-origin Indo-(-European/-Iranian) Horse Warrior was thus a living reminder of an ‘uncontrollable’ and ‘un-erasable’ Past (despite their best efforts to the contrary down the centuries) – a Past which didn’t just ‘refuse to die’, but which also kept killing in a quite a literal sense, the “reformers'” efforts at rolling out a new and more ‘tidy’ (anti-)orthodoxy]

Thus, we have heer the explanation for not only these mythic antlered mounts of the Gods and Demigods and Heroes in Hindu scripture and other, subsequent manifestations of Indo-European mythoreligion – that these are Storm-Horses, Sky-Steeds, Cloud-Cavalry, and the like … but also for the Scythian material culture practices found in the graves of Pazyryk and other sites further afield.

We – for the most part – merely ‘remembered’ it, and occasionally rather imperfectly, it seems ; the Scythians appear to have not only remembered but actively re-enacted, re-immanentized, re-lived it. Just as they did var-ious other features of earlier and archaic Indo-European culture, free from the influences (both negative, positive, and otherwise) of more ‘civilized’, ‘sedentary’, settings.

A remark, I am sure, of most general application.

To sum up in scope, I think –

Unless you are of a rather specific set of clades of Central Asian, (North) Indian, or indeed certain Eastern-European heritage/lineage … this man is not likely to be your direct Ancestor.

He IS, however, of a type and of a culture that was so fundamentally, functionally close to what were your [Ancestors’] Ancestors (assuming, of course, that you are Indo-European) – as to represent a rather stirling window in on what they were ultimately like. [Indeed, if you are of a more directly Divine lineage, and/or descended from the mightiest of archaic Heroes, what They are still rather often like].

Right down to the War-Moose, the Dairy-diet, the (In-Tents) Cannabis consumption, and the Fearsome Reputation.

Although perhaps not the fake beards. I’m still not quite sure about that.

Anyway; From Out Of The Ice He Comes:

This Is #GangSteppe

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