Following on from my post on beach finds something else that I found, and seem to find in perfusion, is flint. I am always drawn to this silicate based stone, in particular because I can ‘see’ the possibilities within it, even if I don’t have the skills to bring it out.
The Ancient Multi-Tool
Flint is probably the most versatile stones out there. A skilled flint knapper can made any number of bladed tools, or weapons, from it including;
- Chisels (admittedly, only aware of these in archaeological reconstruction)
- Arrow Heads
- Spear Heads (hunting, fishing, battle)
Technology and techniques changed not only over time but as a result of available of quality of the materials available. Where high quality flint was unavailable in quantity the production of a hand axe from a single nodule would be high consumption. Great for displays of wealth but not all that practical. This partially accounts for the changes in practice that occurred during the Mesolithic. Now, instead of production objects made of single flakes and nodules tools and weapons would be constructed by mounting many small flakes into wood. These may be secured using pine resin and other forms of naturally occurring glues. As flakes dulled, broke or were lost they were easily replaced by roughly napping. Or even from the waste materials left over from producing larger items.
Modern knappers and reconstructionist are constantly exploring the techniques associated with the process of crafting a usable blade out of a lump of flint. As well as attempting to recreate the techniques of the ancestor they explore just what is possible and practical to achieve in this medium. I’ve seen some interesting experiments by following people like Will Lord on Facebook.
Stone of the Underworld
I find flint on my beach walks and although what I find is relatively low grade and are small, water worn pieces it is possible to find larger nodules from time to time. The most reliable way to find good quality flint in large quantities is through mining. The mining of flint took on a life of its own during the Neolithic period, when a whole ritual process was built around the mining process.
The most famous prehistoric flint mines are found at Grimes Grave in Norfolk. The mines were recently reopened to the public and it is possible to explore the world of ancient flint miners and there are some startling observations to make. Many of the off shoot mine shafts are small, in some cases too small for a full grown adult to traverse indicating that adolescents were being used in the extraction process. The inherent danger involved in this process has lead some to suggest that in addition to the practical element the use of adolescents, males in particular, may be a process of initiation or transition from boy to manhood. The mines represent a connection with the Underworld, which is presumably where the Dead and other worldly spirits reside. The act of descending into this realm in order to remove a material which may then become a prized tool can be viewed as a transformative act both for the object and the individual. Working in the mine may become a task that is carried out on a regular basis but that first venture into the mine will be filled with fear and apprehension. That there were ritual elements to the work being carried out in these spaces is not disputed, though the exact nature and rational behind he acts is open to discussion.
Putting that level of speculation aside there is clear evidence of planned abandonment of tools and objects as tunnels were decommissioned. Antler picks, pots and other objects can be found at the end of tunnels and left upon special altars through out the mines. The justification for this may be two fold.
1) the process of mining removes any object from the ground and people may have believed that a reciprocal object be added in its place, especially if a locating is being decommissioned. Certainly there is evidence from smaller flint mine features, and even granary stores, that pits ‘closed’ after objects were ritually placed at the bottom and then filled with detritus. It is possible that the same process is beige undertaken here as well.
2) objects become spiritually tainted and cannot return to the mundane world. There is evidence from any cultures of the spiritual processes which can be undertaken to purify the body of negative forces and the miasma of the Underworld but personable this process was not an option for essentially disposable objects like antler picks.
It wasn’t only the mining process our ancestors found fascinating, the changes that it can undergo also drew their attention. The most common process is heat treatment. Flint nodules are heated to temperatures in excess of 300 – 400 degrees Celsius, temperatures which are well within the capabilities of wood fires, to create micro fractures which improve the knapping process. The heat treatment also alters the appearance of the silicate, giving it greater shine and lustre. The transformation would have appeared magical, without explanation even though the benefits would have been clear.
Another magical transformation of flint appears to have been the impetus for the beginning of the Stonehenge landscape. Blick Mead, a site not far from Stonehenge which has evidence of human activity dating back from the Mesolithic, made a splash in the media when title was noted that flint placed in the waters of a nearby spring would change colour after about five hours and the flints take on a bright pink hue. The effect, which is caused by the combination of the warm water, dappled sunlight and algae, would have been striking and again without explanation and it is thought that this may have been the origin of the emphasis on this landscape as a ritual space. True, no finished items in day glow pink have been located but this is likely because the process does not survive log periods of burial in the ground.
Just as our prehistoric ancestor had their own understanding of the magical properties of flint so to did they pass them on through history. Flint has been perceived as a magical stone throughout time so here is a quick trip through some of the historical associations of the stone.
Magical Uses of Flint – A Potted History
The main theme associated with flint, and it’s sister mineral chert, is protection. Just what it is protecting you from depends on the culture and land you are looking at. The most prevalent use of flint in a religious or magical context is in the form of “Thunderstones“. After the end of the prehistoric period it was not unusual for farmers to find flint axe and arrow heads which would have been strange and magical in appearance, emerging from the ground fully formed as if crafted by unseen hands in the Underworld. It is important to remember that the farmers of iron and early middle ages Wrexham far more removed to the earliest stone ages than we are from them and there is no written record for the to refer to. These stones were therefore associated with God’s and otherworldly beings you explain not only their original but various other phenomenon, or ward against them.
For example the northern cultures of Scandinavia believes that if offered to the household Gods the Thunderstone would aid them in protecting the house and people within it. This could be from evil spirits, witchcraft or even from lightning strike. In Switzerland, if a farmer found an arrow head he would suspend it from from a string, swig it above his head three times and then release it to strike the door of his home in order to protect it in stormy weather. Moving further south the protection offered morphs to ward against elves (Sweden), protect mothers and babies during childbirth (France), protect against the Evil Eye (Italy) and to prevent madness in dogs (Roman times, interesting side note the same operation of placing placing a shard of flint and a nugget of coral in a pouch around the animals next has morphed into a modern spell to protect animals against wandering).
In Britain the associations of the stones centre around the elves and various fae and the names associated with them, particularly arrow heads, reflect this.
Elf arrows, elf bolts, elf darts, or fairy arrows were all names given to these prehistoric finds and the Powers associated with them reflect this. The most common expression of this was the linking of pain, particularly unexpected and unexplained ‘shooting’ pains as being caused by being hit by these magical bolts. It was believed that being shot by such a bolt could kill, both human and animal, and the way to ward against this was to wear one around the neck.
In the Americas the associations vary depending on the tribe but the themes remain consistent being associated with fire, protection against evil spirits and against witchcraft.
The Attributes and Qualities of Flint
- Core Qualities
Specific protective qualities include protection during meditative, spiritual and astral journeys and against mischievous entities such as elves and fairies.
Flint stimulates our psychic abilities and perceptions and can support through processes of spiritual transformation. It grounds and strengthens us during times where our will power and determination may be tested. It can help us understand the messages we receive during meditative journeys and allows us to refectory upon meanings. Flint is particularly useful for journeys into the lower spiritual realms and when working with chthonic energies. It can also support past life regressions and reviews of our personal history with with a view to growth.
On a metaphysical level flint creates balance and is connected to all of the chakras, facilitating the movement of energy from higher to lower energetic levels and back again.
Hekate and Flint
It has been a little hard to build deity associations for flint. Beyond the associations with Mayan death cults and North American shamanism. The most local connection I could make was the association of particularly shaped Thunderstones appearing in burial and ritual contexts with Thor, God of Thunder and Lightning.
In truth I was searching long and hard to find a connection between flint and the Great God Pan but beyond my own belief that He prefers a more rustic blade over metal, in the same way the fae and other otherworldly beings do, there is little I can find. What I did find was was a couple of devotees that believe that flint is one of the stones associated with Hekate. Their rational was clear, flint is a stone which has the ability to produce a spark. Strike a flint flake with a metallic substance a in just the right way and you can turn the resultant spark into a flame. With time, care and attention this method of fire stating can be even more effective than messing around with matches and lighters and the parallels to Hekatean devotion are also clear. Hekate is the keeper of the flames. Whether you define those flames as being divine emanations, knowledge or the generative spark of creation she is the curator of these flames. When they ebb low she tends to them, and where they die, or require lighting she is there to strike that first spark. Many devotees refer to Hekate as igniting something within them, be that inspiration or devotion itself; what better way to apply that spark than with a flint.
I would take this a step further and draw on the chthonic nature of flint. This light giving stone is mined out of the earth. We’ve already looked at the prehistoric ritual context on mining and it is impossible not to draw links to a Goddess who has strong chthonic connections Herself. Historically, Hekate is often approached in Greek literature through the process of digging a pit in order to measure out libations or place the remains of animal sacrifice. The placing of a substance into the earth in thanks or supplication is consistent with the prehistoric use of pits, including decommissioned flint mining pits/shafts. Similarly, As a torch bearing goddess who guides the vernal Goddess Persephone back into the world the emergence of light out of underground places also plays it’s part.
A Witch Alone suggests handing flint above a heketeion for protective reasons, drawing on the many associations that exist around this stone already, but there are other associations to be drawn which make the inclusion of flint on a Hekatean altar appealing. For those who offer their own blood as part of their practice flint may also be appealing because of the wicked edge that it can carry.
I’ve had a flint blade for a number of years now. Although it really intended for decorative purposes it carries enough of an edge to be a practical in cutting and carving but is is, by and large, not edged sufficiently to cut skin. In the process of breaking up a large flint node in order to make a pendant I managed to add an effective cutting edge to a couple of the flakes, as you can see by the sliced finger I gave myself. The cut was very clean, deep and slow to bleed and didn’t actually hurt all that much at the time. The wound healed quickly and cleanly. It was unintentional, but that pendant flake will make a very good ’emergency’ blood letting tool should I not have a lancet to hand.
What I Will Be Doing
I’ve already mentioned that I will be turning one of my pendant pieces into a wearable ritual blade, and to do so I will use the wire wrap method of jewellery making. I will add more pieces to my shrine and altar area specifically for Hekate rather than in the generic space in association with Pan.
One plan is to turn some of my favourite pieces into pendulums for myself and the girls. The biggest issue will be how to hang them as wire wrapping will not work well on these smaller pieces. I am researching capping methods and may even try my hand at polymer clay.
Finally, I will also be incorporating flint into my household protection. There are a couple of suggested processes available on the Web but I intent to craft something myself in the future. If nothing else it will give me the opportunity to use some of the masses of flint I have collected from beaches in the last 5 years.