Veneration of water in 12 objects….number five the Dagenham Idol
Now here’s a conundrum. Is the eighteen inch Dagenham Idol associated with water or not? It was uncovered, in 1922 buried in peaty marshy soil on the edge of the River Thames on the site when 8 years later the Ford’s works was built. The accepted view is that it was an offering to increase the fertility of the land, associated as it was with a sacrificed deer skeleton, but is discovery in marshland surely goes against that view and underlines the lack of understanding of votive offerings.
The Idol is one of the oldest European effigy of a person and dates from the Neolithic period (between c4000 and 2000 BC) making it date from 4300 years old. Made of Scots Pine a tree which is often found in dry areas of peat bogs
It is a most striking effigy. The figure has an almost modernist feel about it; its head is disc shaped with a large rectangular nose and has thin but proportionate legs. It lacks arms but does not appear unusual for that and it is possible that the loss of arms is significant. Does it emphasise a need that the depositor wanted to heal, if so this is an action akin to many deposits in Celtic springs.
Another feature which has been identified to give some idea of its origin is the possibility of it having one eye. It has been suggested that this is a very early representative image of the Norse God Odin. This would make it unusual as the earliest recognised image dates from the Bronze Age in Denmark being Broddenbjerg’s effigy. Odin is of course significant in water worship as he is said to had self-sacrificed his eye at Mimir’s Well a well which lay at the base of the great world tree Yggdrasil, to obtain a drink and the wisdom within it.
A translation of Prose Edda reads:
“Of what wouldst thou ask me?
Why temptest thou me?
Odin! I know all,
where thou thine eye didst sink
in the pure well of Mim.
Mim drinks from mead each morn
from Valfather’s pledge.”
What is greater evidence for the effigy being Odin of course is the circular hole between the legs. This would appear to suggest that like the Broddenbjerg a phallus would be inserted in it. Of course no phallus was found but the similarity despite the unlikely fact that a Viking God being over 3000 years older than we expect, the evidence appears to support the view. Furthermore it appears to again suggest a water association.
For many years the Idol sat pride of place in Colchester Museum. That was until November 2009 when it went missing. Where did it go? Police in San Francisco bizarrely had the answer. They were called to a house where a next door neighbour was dancing and chanting naked in his backyard. When the police arrived he pleaded to them to “harness the power of the Idol”. The man had been carved a replica of it around which he was dancing
He admitted the theft telling the police that:
“I was visiting Colchester Castle and the Idol spoke to me, as soon as I saw it I felt its power, its hard to describe, I just suddenly felt Neolithic and I knew I had to have it”
“When I came back to San Francisco strange things began to happen, I soon felt my life spinning out of control and I knew it was the power of the Idol, I thought I could speak to it and it would help me but the more I spoke to it the worse things got”.
The man noted that once he returned to San Francisco
“My construction business really took off when I got back, despite the recession I started making more money than ever, while everyone else was struggling I was having success, it had to be the power of the Idol”
The power was short lived as he noted:
“Then all of a sudden everything turned upside down, my cat died and then my favourite cactus, and then I got a visit from the IRS and things really went downhill, I started drinking heavily and gambling and I squandered all the money I had made, Dawn threatened to leave me, worst of all, my football team started losing every game”.
This would appear to be in line with the view of Colchester Museum curator:
“Some very odd and unpleasant things have happened to people who have dealt with the Idol over the centuries, it is said to be cursed”.
This curse does not appear to have discouraged Valence House Museum in Dagenham who petitioned for a permanent display there and now it stands there in a class cabinet all alone in the room.
So the does the Dagenham Idol relate to lost pagan water worship. I think yes, but perhaps one day we will know for sure.
Copyright Pixyled Publications