I’ve recently started watching the second season of Britannia. My recommendation on it is here. So while I was watching the stoned out of the gourds Druids, I got to thinking.
Worshipping trees. Is that fucked or what?
I mean seriously, how much sense does it make?
Worshipping cats makes sense. No, really it does. When your grain stores aren’t that big, to begin with, there is no such thing as acceptable losses. Vermin are a threat to your family’s existence, so a threat to the vermin is very welcome indeed, particularly when that threat is happy to eat the stuff you won’t. And cats also clearly regard themselves as the rightful lords of the universe.
So, Bastet makes sense.
Aside from firewood and nuts what do they bring to the party?
Truthfully, quite a lot if you factor in two things.
- How an innumerate society views the passage of time.
If you are an American You probably don’t have the slightest freaking idea what pollarding is. Understandably so, we didn’t really have a lot of use for it in this country. Well, actually that’s not precisely accurate Native Americans did practice pollarding themselves. But what my immediate ancestors practiced was clearance lumbering. Trees were not a scarce resource when Europeans showed up here. They were an obstacle to be removed.
However, pollarding is probably what got us out of the Stone Age. In its simplest iteration, instead of cutting off a tree at the base, you cut it off above the height of where your domestic animals can typically graze. If you have done it right, you don’t kill the tree and it starts to sprout new branches where the cut was made. It appears that most societies discover the practice sooner rather than later. Likely because it is easier to climb up a tree and cut it down with stone tools where the trunk is thinner towards the top. Now there’s a lot more to it than that if you are going to be successful at it but that is pollarding in its simplest form.
Loyal Reader: The fuck does that do for the caveman version of me?!
Plenty, as it turns out. It makes harvesting firewood a lot more reliable for a start. You can settle down in one area rather than constantly having to keep moving. And depending on the variety of trees there can be uses for fibers or tree hay. Yes, tree hay is a thing and is healthier for ruminants than grain silage. It is what they would have eaten when they were wild cattle. Pollarded trees make for a rough and ready open barn due to their low branches. Fruit and nuts are a welcome bonus.
So for a primitive society pollarded groves of trees were a critically important resource.
Now comes the innumerate part.
If I told you that an entire village of the Burkinabe people were beheaded by their neighbors and in unrelated news an entire town of Taexali people were tied up and beaten to death by some of theirs as well. Your reaction to both bits of news is probably identical.
But now what if I tell you that the Taexalis were killed 2000 years ago and that the Burkinabe were slaughtered this year?
Now your reaction is different. Or at least it’s different if you’re not fucked in the head, (if you are fucked in the head, please don’t prove it in my comments. Callousness is nothing to be proud of).
The truth is that the Taexali feel much more remote to you because you know long ago two thousand years is.
But in an innumerate society, any period of time before the birth of the oldest person you know is jumbled together into “a long time ago.” This is one of the big reasons that Third Worlders get so pissed off about shit that happened to them five hundred years ago. To them, it’s no further back than the Roaring Twenties.
Now consider the innumerate world view regarding a grove pollarded trees that have been providing warmth for your hovels, feed for your livestock as well as shade and shelter for them, since before the birth of the grandfather of the oldest person you know?
So far as you concerned, those trees have literally been there for-ev-er. Because you have no other way to view them.
looked at from that perspective, worshipping trees starts to make sense.
What doesn’t make sense is me watching the second season of Britannia, given how I felt about the first season.