Winter Stories

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Winter is a time for imagination.  For reflection.  For stories.  We bolt the door and huddle around the fire, listening to the voices whispering in the chimney.  Ghosts, of the past year, of the family members we’ve lost, of ancient ancestors.  Ghosts as metaphor, ghosts as memory, ghosts as the very essence of all we fear, and sometimes all we desire.

Tuesday December 22 is the Winter Solstice, when the sunlight hours are barely there and the night reaches on and on.  It’s a time I value.  The traditions.  Crouching next to the warmth and mulling on things gone, and things yet to come.

Today the last deep coal mine in Britain closed.  Soon there will be ghosts of entire industries.  King Coal used to rule round these parts.  I remember my grandfather telling me of the ghosts of dead miners that haunted the long, lonely tunnels.  When they were working alone, sometimes the men would hear these spirits knocking, or calling out, urging the living to join them in the dark.  The tales weren’t peculiar to this area.  As far as I can tell, they existed all over the country, and in tin mines as well as coal mines.  Nobody will hear the dead miners any more.  But they will echo on in the stories, as they do in this one I tell you, which will live on in your head, and, perhaps, be passed on by your tongue.  The stories never die.

We’ve been thinking about this for a long time.  The primary axis of Stonehenge is aligned to the winter solstice sunrise, as is the entrance tunnel to the neolithic monument at Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland.  This moment has always been important to us.

Here in the old Kingdom of Mercia, ghosts flicker in the forest that presses tight around my house.  Along the old Roman road that curves around my boundary hedge.  I listen to what they say, and I learn.

Proof Of Heaven – Book Review

Proof

Near Death Experiences (NDEs) are a fascinating topic. They affect people regardless of cultural background or religious belief, or lack of it, and they’ve been recorded from the earliest days of civilisation. For years science has suggested explanations for the tunnel, the white light, the dead relatives waiting to greet you, and all the other familiar markers of an NDE. But whether dumps of DMT from the pineal gland, primitive brainstem programs or toxic overstimulation of cortical neurons, those theories have all been found wanting as we have discovered more about what really happens to the brain under the threat of death.

If you had to suggest what would make the best case study of an NDE, it would involve: a skeptical patient, someone who was an expert in neuroscience, and a situation where there were extremely detailed records of what was happening to brain chemistry at the point of death. By the laws of chance, that is never going to happen…

Except here it did. Eben Alexander is a leading neurosurgeon with a well-documented career of writing and teaching about neuroscience in leading institutions. He was also a confirmed materialist and a skeptic of anything spiritual – even of the notion that consciousness existed beyond a mechanical construct of the brain’s processing of experience and memory.

And then Alexander was struck down by a rare and seemingly incurable form of bacterial meningitis that threw him into a coma. The doctors at the hospital where he worked gave him less than a ten per cent chance of survival, and even if he did pull through he was expected to be irretrievably brain-damaged. Finally they advised his family to turn off life support.

Yet against all the odds, Alexander did wake up, and with all his faculties intact. And he came back with a staggering account of an NDE that is all the more powerful because it could not…should not…be. His detailed medical records show that there was no activity in his brain that could possibly have accounted for what he experienced – in effect, the human, thinking part of him was dead.

The unique case study alone is worth the four stars – it’s an important account in the study of NDEs. The book itself, for me, probably deserves three. It’s easy reading – no doubt because Alexander wanted to convey his experiences to the widest possible audience – but I would have preferred some more analytical writing and less visceral or emotional.

Having said that, Proof of Heaven is worth reading because of the confluence of Alexander’s scientific background and the life-changing experience he underwent, one which kicked away all the props of the intellectual life he’d built over his years in science.

Skull On A Stake Reveals Mysterious Ancient Ritual

A fascinating discovery by archaeologists in Sweden: poles with human heads impaled on them at the bottom of a pond, dating back to the stone age.  Apart from the mystery surrounding the ritual, the academics are also scratching their heads about a stone burial mound found nearby – a kind that didn’t become common until much later.

“According to Hallgren this mound of stones was built at the bottom of a pond where nobody could see it. What was the point?…”

 

Stonehenge Origins Uncovered

Experts have identified the precise location in Wales of some of the megaliths used in the construction of Stonehenge.

It’s a pretty major achievement to discover the location of the millennia-old quarry down to a few metres, but this also throws up some new mysteries. The rhyolitic rocks differ from all others in South Wales. The presumption is that they were chosen for a specific reason. How were they identified and why? There has been some interesting work done elsewhere into the acoustic qualities of particular stones at prehistoric sites. Is this important?

And this discovery has also kicked a hole in theories of how the stones were transplanted to Salisbury Plain. A consensus was growing that they were floated on rafts along the coast, but the exact location’s inaccessibility to water makes this unlikely. The old geologic theory – that the stones were pushed by advancing glaciers from Wales to Wiltshire during the ice age – is pretty flimsy as there aren’t any other Welsh rocks scattered around the Plain.

Australian Stone Circle ‘Older Than Stonehenge’

This new look at an old discovery is raising questions about whether ancient aboriginal culture had a deep understanding of the movement of the stars.

“They have discovered that waist-high boulders at the tip of the egg-shaped point along the ring to the position on the horizon where the sun sets at the summer and winter solstice – the longest and shortest day of the year.”

Eight Unbroken Codes

Anyone who’s read The Scar-Crow Men knows that codes play an important part in the story, as they did for real spies in the sixteenth century…and today.

New Scientist has a great article this week on eight codes that still remain unbroken, from the famous Voynich Manuscript to the CIA’s Kryptos monument to one of the final messages from the Zodiac serial killer.

Worth a read. You’ll have to sign up, for free, but you only get a window of a couple of days to check it out.

Secret Code Discovered In Mona Lisa

Symbols and numerals have been discovered hidden in the eyes of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa after clues were found in a half-century old book.

“We are only at the start of this investigation and we hope to be able to dig deeper into this mystery and reveal further details as soon as possible. It’s remarkable that no-one has noticed these symbols before and from the preliminary investigations we have carried out we are confident they are not a mistake and were put there by the artist.”