Here’s the official site of the Roman Baths in Bath: http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/
The Roman Baths are the very thing after which the city is named and its principle tourist attraction, but we never intended to visit them until the very end of our trip. Ustane and I had left the hotel and were actually on the station waiting for a train when the strange magnetic attraction that would lead us to them began. I’ve spoken several times before about “Post-Probe Blues”, and actually I always feel a little melancholy as a conference draws to a close. The intensity of the experience dissipates very quickly and my imminent return to the so-called “real” world looms ahead like a dark stormcloud; it can feel very intimidating and gloomy after the ambiance and delights of the conferences, and the intimacy and companionship of their delegates. Ustane was very down too, although she was a bit hard to fathom that day, remaining very quiet and unresponsive. Possibly she was hit by the same dejection that I was. I was actually talking to the woman behind the counter of the station shop when I happened to glance at the map printed on the counter and asked her where the Roman ruins were. “Here.” She pointed to a spot in the heart of the city. It was when we realized that we’d have to wait almost a whole hour for our train that we made the decision to return into the city and visit the site; Ustane wanted to buy a present for her daughter too. I think we both subconsciously longed to do something that would prolong our holiday and delay the inevitable return to our normal lives. The Roman Baths are not visible from the street and couldn’t be seen until we were almost upon them. The site was not properly excavated until the 1950’s and that work is still ongoing today with new digs stretching under the modern buildings nearby. Hot springs are common in some countries, like Iceland, but there are only a few locations in Britain where geothermally-heated water reaches the surface and Bath is the most productive. Bathing was an important part of Roman culture and the remains of their huge pubic baths, the size of modern swimming pools, can be found all over their former empire. Even the forts of Hadrian’s Wall have a bath, which is amazing when you consider that this was the edge of a war-zone for several centuries. Even when dodging the arrows and swords of the Picts the Legionaries still took time-out for a dip. The difference is that most of the baths were warmed by fires in a central heating system called a “hypercaust”, but the one at Bath is geothermal. This is why it was considered holy by them and the central spring, the only part that survived intact, was never bathed in and has a pedestal in it for a statue of Minerva, the Roman Goddess of water. However the Romans weren’t the first people to sanctify the spring. The exhibition shows how the pre-Roman Celts also venerated it as a place of their Goddess Sulis. This is why the Romans merged the two deities together; it was also no doubt a scam to win heart-and-minds in the chaos of the period after the invasion and conquest. The site displays a stylish blend of Celtic and Roman art, especially the “Gorgon head” that was placed on the temple facade. There is an important difference between the pre-Roman and Roman forms in which this veneration was practiced. The Romans were the first people to actually put buildings on the site. Before they arrived in the area, the spring was a natural pool of water which was drained by a stream which led to the River Avon. The pool would have been surrounded by trees and not altered from its natural state except maybe just by putting a wooden alter where supplicants could place gifts to the Goddess: ornaments, weapons, jewelry, food and drink. The placing of artificial structures to alter the natural pond has always aroused nods of admiration and approval from modern Western historians; it’s a sign of the Roman’s ingenuity and superiority over their primitive, savage and barbarous subjects. But should we really see it that way? The way the Celts worshiped their Goddess in natural surroundings is, for me, a sign of wisdom and understanding. In my view, the need to ruin it by cutting down the trees, lining the banks with stone and raising closed artificial structures over the top of it is savage and barbarous. I’ve recently become very interested in the Roman Conquest and how it relates to the rest of my research. The way it is more often presented to us is as something glorious and liberating, a damn good move! I’m a huge fan of the Carry On films, but the way the pre-Roman Britons are portrayed as cavemen in Carry on Cleo is symptomatic of this attitude. This fawning Romanophillia reaches its perigee with the documentary What the Romans Did for Us, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDU5zBYQprc (The opening scene is from the Baths). But there is another side to the story that paints a very different picture, one that is explored by authors of historical fiction more than historians, like Manda Scott in her brilliant Boudica quartet: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2010/01/boudica-and-perennial-holocaust.html . This portrays the Romans, more accurately I’d say, as brutal fascists and destroyers with an atrophied spirit. Yes, one can’t deny that they were very very clever people, but their cleverness exceled in the world of science, engineering, architecture, materialistic riches and military power. I’m interested that the British Celtic people, who lived in Britain for about a thousand years before the Roman Conquest and whose modern descendents are the Scots, Irish and Welsh (like me), always built more natural-looking round or oval houses that were usually purely functional. The Romans were the first to put up very synthetic-looking square buildings with corners and straight walls; their buildings also were clearly more than functional, they were built to impress: for the sake of prestige and aggrandizement. The Romans effectively invented British architecture. There’s a scene in one of the Boudica books where a character feels bemused at the Roman obsession with straight lines and angles. Celtic art is famous for having no straight lines. It’s worth bearing in mind, the next time you see Adam Hart-Davis enthusing over our new straight roads, vineyards and central heating, the price we had to pay for these material luxuries: It was effectively cultural genocide; the disarming of our warriors, the burning of our forests, the seizure of our land, the felling of our sacred groves and the outlawing of our indigenous Druid-based Shamanic spirituality. Do you think that was a good deal?... Me neither. And at the end of the day, like most other historical events, the Illuminati were behind it because the Roman Empire was owned and occupied by their agents. I actually shot a short HPANWO TV movie at the Baths, see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2010/08/bath-roman-bath-house.html . One of the most remarkable things I discovered was, when I looked at the geological exhibition at the Baths museum, that there are not just one but three spots in the area where the heated water upwells from the depths of our Mother Earth; the site of the Roman Baths is the main one but there are two others and one of them emerges right next to the Chapel Arts Centre, the venue of the ARC Convention. You can’t see it today, it just flows straight into the modern drainage system; but its spirit will remain and I’m sure Sulis was watching over us all weekend.
Postscript 2- Skeptics in the Pub
Ustane and I spent several hours at the Baths and then drank our glass of foul-tasting spa water and headed for the station and our journey home. The Baths had done us good and we were both in higher spirits. We parted company at Didcot. After a tender farewell Ustane caught the train for Nottingham while stayed on board. I was heading on to London and Skeptics in the Pub. See here for reports on my previous visits to SiTP: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2008/09/skeptic-in-pub-15908.html and: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2008/07/skeptic-in-pub-21808.html . The event has moved to a new pub called The Monarch Bar in Camden Town, but its format is the same. I was pleased to meet up with my favorite Skeppy Jack-of-Kent there (See links column). The guest that day was a Skeptress called Tracy King who is a film producer. Her current project is a film based on a 9-minute beat-poem by Tim Minchin called Storm, see: http://www.stormmovie.net/blog/ . Tim Minchin is a famous Australian comedian, pianist and Skeptic. The poem is about an argument he had at a dinner party with a non-Skeptic girl and I must admit it is witty and amusing, although I don’t share all Minchin’s sentiments about it. It’s on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0W7Jbc_Vhw . Tracy the Skeptress (or is the correct term “Skeptrix”?) wants to make an animated movie to accompany the poem. She described how the project is being put together and introduced the various artists involved. She showed a few trial clips and animator’s sketches on the screen, and in doing so revealed something important about the way the Skeptic Movement has developed during the time I’ve been studying it. One of the clips the Skeptress displayed was the part at 4.49 in the vid where Tim lays into psychics. It was only a penciled storyboard sketch, but I could see that they intend to portray a psychic with Devil’s horns. The Skeptic Movement is definitely becoming more militant and doctrinaire. I don’t object to Skeptical people organizing themselves and getting together like we “Woo’s” do, in fact I’m attending TAM London, a Skeptics’ conference next month, see: http://www.tamlondon.org/ . I’m very anti-censorship; I even supported Simon Singh in his libel case against chiropractors. As Voltaire said, we will never be free until we are willing to fight for the rights to Free Speech of those we disagree with. The concern I have is that with increasing politicization can come the inevitable pathologies that afflicts politics. (The non-Skeptical world is not immune from this, it’s got to be said). One of those that I saw that night at the London SiTP is polarization, that Skeptics are increasingly believing that they are engaged in a battle of Good against Evil… Pure Good vs Pure Evil. History has shown us many times where this leads. The warning signs can also be found in the closing statement of James Randi’s address to the World Skeptics’ Convention: It begins at about 1.25.00: “You can walk the path of real science, or it’s back to the caves!” This is the same kind of simplistic binary logic that George W Bush used when he infamously told the world: “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists”. What Randi is saying, and some factions of the Skeptic world are endorsing, is that if a person buys a 50p crystal or watches one episode of Most Haunted on TV, then they are science-haters who think Richard Dawkins should be guillotined, all universities should teach only Creationism and everybody should go live in treehouses and die at 35. This kind of distortion worries me greatly... Still it was a good evening. I wonder if "Storm" will ever come forward. She might write her own poem about her barney with Tim!
The man walked up the dark street, plodding wearily. An owl hooted in a nearby tree and the ducks on the river murmured quietly in their sleep. He switched on his mobile phone and a text appeared. He pressed the “open” button before the alert tone could disturb the slumbering houses. “IM HOME. THANX 4 A GR8 WEEKEND. NITE NITE X” The man sighed with relief knowing that the woman was safe in her bed. He responded with a similar message of electronic tenderness and then turned up his driveway to his front door. He had to put down his rucksack to fish the keys out of his pocket; they had sunk to the depths from lack of use. The door creaked. “Anybody awake?” he called.
“Who’s that?” came a sleep-ridden voice from upstairs.
“Me!... I guess you’re awake then.”
“I am now!... Night night.”
“Night.” The man went into the kitchen and the cats came up and greeted him with friendly whines. The man opened his rucksack and started unpacking. A brochure for the ARC Convention fell into his hands as he removed his washbag. On the back cover was a close-up photo of the face of a cheerful, smiling woman. He stared at the photo and said fervently: “You did a good job. Thanks, Karen; thanks for everything.
(Ustane has produced her own report of the ARC Convention. Here it is: http://ustane-backtoeden.blogspot.com/2010/09/experiencing-great-bath.html)Go back to Part 4: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2010/09/bathing-into-history-part-4.html
(Latest HPANWO Voice stories: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2010/09/gurka-beheads-taliban.html
Latest HPANWO TV films: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2010/09/microchip-muslim-day.html