NOTA Cosmos: The Nineth Planet Controversy

In July 2005 the discovery of the dwarf planet Eris which was initially thought to be of the same size as Pluto (in fact it is 27% larger than Pluto) is often cited as one of the key arguments for the reclassifying of Pluto’s planetary status. The official story goes that a debate was held by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) leading to a resolution in which it was stated that in order for an object to considered a fully-fledged planet in our Solar System it must satisfy three criteria: 1) The object must orbit around the Sun; 2) The object must be massive enough to be a sphere by its own gravitational force. More specifically, its own gravity should pull it into a shape of hydrostatic equilibrium; 3) It must have cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.  Like Eris, Pluto only satisfies the first and second and fails the third, thus, the argument goes, is the reason for declassifying it as the nineth planet proper in our solar system and reclassifying it as a dwarf planet.

However, the reality is somewhat different. Senior experts at NASA told NOTA reporters in an exclusive interview that the reason that Pluto cannot be the nineth planet in our solar system is that there is only one Number 9 . . . Go here

ALAN SHEARER!

Venables Mythos: ‘The Curious Case of Lee Dixon’ Chapter One

‘Twas strange, pondered Adrian Chiles momentarily struck by a blow of conscience ordinarily alien to him, ’twas strange indeed that no one had bothered themselves over the sudden disappearance of former Arsenal defender turned football pundit Lee Dixon. It’s just as well I left the BBC, he thought, they’re Beebing bastards. The latter comment raised a smug grin to his already self-satisfied chops, particularly proud as he was of his Brummie wit. He glanced in the mirror and blew himself a kiss, ‘God, you’re good, Chilesy old boy! That’s why your on the tele’. After adjusting his tie, he quickly fingered some Aqua Fresh over his teeth, rinsed-spat-rinsed-gurgled-spat and, after slamming the bathroom door behind him purposefully to annoy his neighbours, thundered down the stairs to check his mail.

    ‘Fuck off,’ picking up the Royal Mail’s apology for lazy postmanship, ‘you didn’t even knock.’ Chiles had been keenly expecting the delivery of a couple of futanari hentai DVDs. It’s perfectly normal to want to wank yourself silly to the point of frenzy over she-male cartoon characters banging like bent bummers. Livid. Fucking fuming. ‘Oh, he’s left the package behind the bin!’ he grunted after reading the note, despite being secretly overjoyed, and further embellished his  faux dissatisfaction with a tut, ‘I mean, that’s a safe place, isn’t it!’ He eagerly thrust open the door, and as the sun threw mere loose change into his otherwise dim hallway, his mind blew at the animated excess of the immediate future. Yes mate, fucking get it straight on . . . And wear the ex’s knickers! Nowt wrong with that; totally normal. [Cont.d here]

Venables Mythos: A Vow to Vitiris, or The Old Man

On the Roman forts along and in the surrounding areas of Hadrian’s Wall Adkins & Adkins count that there are ‘over 50 inscriptions’ (2004: 306) to the god or gods known variously to his worshippers as either ‘Vetris, Vitiris, Veteres, Votris, Hviteres, Hviteris [and/or] Hvitris’ (Breeze & Dobson 1977:263). Burnham & Wacher refer to Vitiris as ‘the “Old God”‘ (1990: 62) due to his name meaning “the Old Man”. A number of commentators regard Vitirus, the old man, as a seer/prophet and wise man. He is sometimes depicted as singular and at other times part of plural deity, yet the meaning of this is unclear as Adkins & Adkins point out ‘[l]ittle is known about his character or function’ (op.cit.). Occasionally one finds  iconography associated with him such as altars decorated with a boar and/or a serpent.

What we do know is that the Vitiris’ cult differed from his chief rivals due to having ‘its centre further east, thus spreading into County Durham and down into North Yorkshire instead of Cumberland and Lancashire’ (Collingwood & Myres 1998: 269).  For example, ‘[d]edications to the Vetris god stretch along the Wall from Benwell to Carvoran, which has no less than sixteen dedications, and stop there’ (Breeze & Dobson, op. cit). Collingwood & Myres argue that Vitiris ‘had his sanctuary [. . .] not far from the Wall’ (1998: 269), perhaps specifically Carvoran fort due to it having ‘a quarter of all known dedications’ (ibid.). However, one should be wary about such specificity given that this claim is made merely on the number of altars which have been unearthed. For example, the Vindomora fort at Ebchester has only two known altars to Vitiris, yet there could have been a great deal more for what we know of this fort is highly limited due to the fact that the town is built directly on top of it. Also, forts such as the one at Washing Wells are yet to be properly excavated. Vitiris was then a thoroughly North Eastern deity.

Adkins & Adkins point out, ‘[h]is cult appears to have been exclusively male’ (op. cit.). Breeze & Dobson add that the male faithful of Vitiris seem to have been ‘relatively unimportant socially’ (ibid.) due to the fact that they did not ‘put their names on their small altars, or they [gave] one name rather than the three of the Roman citizen’ (ibid.):

the only soldier of any rank attested for [Vitirus was] an imaginifer

(1977: 263)

We have already established the typical iconography associated with Vitiris, that is, the boar and/or the serpent yet what do these icons mean? Fig. 2 (below) shows a phallus-shaped altar to an undisclosed god adored with serpent iconography, if this altar was made for Vitiris why the phallic shape? Perhaps there was a connection between the phallus and the serpent in Vitirus worship? Hopefully, we’ll be able to shed some light onto this at a later date, however what concerns us at this present moment is the inscriptions.

Many of the altars to Vitiris end with the letter V.S.L.M. which stands for votum solvit libens merito (Hornum 1993:179), meaning (who) willing and deservingly fulfilled his vow. For example

At Cataractibium (Catterick, North Yorkshire), he is invoked as DEO SANCTO VHETERI PRO SALVTE AVR MVCIANI VSLM (To the Divine god Veterus, for the well-being of Aurelius Mucianus, (who) willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow)

(celtnet.org.uk)

fig. 2 Phallus-shaped altar with serpent iconography to unknown god. Vitiris, perhaps? If so, why so phallic?

and at Vercovicium (Hadrian’s Wall Fort, Housesteads, Northumberland)

[t]here are three inscriptions to Veteris (or the Veterae). The first of these [RIB 1602] reads: DEO HVETERI SVPERSTES ET REGVLVS VSLM (To the god hVeteris, the survivors and Regulus willingly and deservedly fulfill their vow). Which might suggest that Veteris was a martial deity and that the survivors were the survivors of a conflict.

(celtnet.org.uk)

But what was this vow? Why would the majority of over 50 inscriptions make reference to such a pledge? What was demanded of them by the Old Man god of Vitiris? Perhaps an answer to this can be found if we look at the basics; if all religious cults seek to further the cause of that specific cult and if Vitiris’ following was ‘exclusively male’ as Adkins & Adkins (op.cit) point out then we must therefore conclude that vow made in the name of Vitiris was a promise to further the cause of this god and his exclusively male followers, i.e. it was a vow to do it for the Boys!

Bibliography

  • Adkins, L, & Adkins, R.A. (2004) Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome (New York: Facts on File, Inc.)
  • Burnham, B.C., & Wacher, J.S. (1990) The Small Towns of Roman Britain (Los Angeles: University of California Press)
  • Breeze, D.J., & Dobson, B. (1977) Hadrian’s Wall (London: Penguin)
  • Collingwood, R.G., & Myres, J.N.L. (1998) Roman Britain and English Settlements (New York: Biblo & Tannen)
  • Hornum, M. B. (1993) Nemesis, the Roman State, & the Games (Leiden: EJ Brill)

Venables Mythos: To Segedunum, in haste!

Segedunum Roman Fort and Baths

In 1970, a previously unknown Roman fort was discovered just south of the old Washing Wells farm in Whickham. The discoverer was a Dr. McCord who, as legend has it, noticed some odd lines on a field between Team Valley and Whickham areas of Gateshead whilst on a flight from Sunderland airport. Roman-britain.org states that the fort, which was ‘trapezoid’ in shape, ‘measur[ed] about 490 by 410 feet [. . .] and cover[ed] an area of about 4 1/2 acres’ and webwanderers.org argue that this size of Roman fort would be ‘normally associated with a garrison of 480 men’. Both sources confirm that the aerial photographs indicate the dual period nature of the site; period one is thought to be pre-Hadrianic:

the main cropmarks represent successive lines of ditches of several phases or periods. At two points groups of symmetrically placed cropmarks suggest large post holes, which may have held timber uprights of gateway structures. It may therefore, be reasonably concluded that the site is that of a pre – Hadrianic fort. (webwanderers.org)

Roman-britain.org argues that this pre-Hadrianic fort could have been

possibly [. . .] founded during the Trajanic withdrawal from Scotland as an eastward extension of the Stanegate system. (roman-britain.org)

The second period of the site is thought to be early-Hadrianic. Roman-britain.org argues that this ‘enclosure may be indicative of an early-Hadrianic alteration to the fort’s garrison’ however they conclude that it is likely that the fort was abandoned with the possibility of the same garrison unit being relocated when the fort at Segedunum (above) was built in what is now Wallsend.

All of which begs the question, why did they abandon the site? Why relocate from what is now Gateshead? We know that Gateshead was plentiful; in the middle ages under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Durham its forest was the hunting ground for the elite.  There were goats everywhere – Gateshead = Goat’s Headland – if one were so inclined. So why leave? Webwanderers.org point out that

Faint cropmarks exist in a field near this site, which may indicate barrows and non – Roman occupation of the area. (webwanderers.org)

Why would the Romans think it safer to set up camp nearer Scotland, if the Scots weren’t their primary fear then who were? Why go north? Who were these non-Romans south of Whickham? Who could possibly drive a 480-men strong Roman garrison unit to flee across the other side of water, using the River Tyne as a protection? Who were these others? Or rather what were they? What was buried in these barrows? And why since its discovery in 1970 has the site remained unexcavated? What are archaeologists afraid of finding, or worse unleashing? Webwanderers.org perhaps offer us a clue when they state that

Another find of interest in the same general area is a Bronze Age burial. Material from this is in Sunderland Museum.

Under lock and key, no doubt.