Lindow Manchester

A New Interpretation of Lindow Man and New Light on the Legend of the Alderley Edge Wizard

I will give a variant of my talk about Lindow Man and sacrificial theory. In the presentation I ask how, if Lindow Man dates from the early Roman period, we can reconcile human sacrifice with the Roman  occupation.

What being occupied by the Romans means in practice is a moot point and there must have been considerable continuity in the early years, especially in northern Britain. Did the killings continue because no-one had banned them  or was it because the Roman army was here and this was how local people held on to a sense of identity under foreign occupation? Rene Girard goes so far as to claim that the whole of human cultural and social order spring  from “acts of unanimous sacrificial violence against innocent victims or scapegoats.” Girard helps to reconcile the practice of human sacrifice with Roman occupation by showing how scapegoats are charged with the worst crimes imaginable in order to justify killing them very violently (Girard uses  emotive words like ‘lynching’ and ‘immolation’).

For example, in the ancient Greek myth of Oedipus, Oedipus is scapegoated and driven from Thebes because he killed his father and married his mother. Girard says that this is the wrong way round and that he was accused of those crimes after the fact in order to justify his banishment.  Girard notes that following his banishment Oedipus acquired sanctified status and Greek cities vied with one another for possession of his remains.

Depiction of the Alderley Edge Wizard

This set me thinking about the local legend of the Alderley Edge wizard. In the story the sleeping king and his knights (King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table?) will awaken and save Britain in her hour of need. Working backwards along the Girardian scapegoat trajectory, the sleeping saviours must have been scapegoated before they could be sanctified. Typically this would involve killing them violently and afterwards writing a more palatable account of their death for posterity (Girard calls this ‘mythic crystallization’) .

Is the Alderley Edge wizard story a re-written account of the killing of scapegoats at the site or nearby (Lindow Moss isn’t very far away). Could it  be a folk memory, committed to writing in the mid 18th century, of the killing of innocent people, whose remains have survived in the archaeological record as bog bodies?

One of the benefits of this approach is to reconcile human sacrifice with the presence of a Roman administration dedicated to stamping it out  because scapegoat victims are accused of terrible crimes to justify killing them. It also leaves us free to disconnect the killing of Lindow Man and the Roman occupation of northern Britain. Sacrificial crises occur for any one of a number of reasons (plague, famine, flood, drought) or none at all. It was possibly  in  response to the Roman invasion but it doesn’t have to have been.


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[…] of human remains in society that can now be evidenced. Sadly in 2008 it was too late to develop Rene Girard’s work on scape-goating in relation to bog bodies and Lindow Man, but it is a topic I have spoken about in presentations to […]

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