hist-games: Indian War-games]

Mats Winther mwi9 at swipnet.se
Sun Nov 13 08:58:03 PST 2005

Den 2005-11-12 17:24:58 skrev Mats Winther <mwi9 at swipnet.se>:

> Den 2005-11-12 12:41:23 skrev <sedwilkins at aol.com>:
>>  Mats-
>> I agree on the spiritual significance of games in ancient cosmologies--
> but don't you think that games enscribed for ritual significance would havea substantially different appearance than something scratched in a surface forcasual use?
>> Sally W (who at the moment can actually only call to mind the appearance
> of the morris boards etched on the misericords at some abbey in England)
> Yes, but it's curious how often they are found in temples and abbeys.
> In Gloucester Cathedral, according to Murray, there are several Fox
> and Geese boards incised on the stone seats. From the well in Norwich
> castle (a holy place) was retrieved a game scratched on a flat stone.
> Fox and Geese boards also occur in the cloisters of San Paolo, Rome.
> In India, according to Prof. Rangachar Vasantha, this is more properly
> done. Board games are depicted in murals, and they were deliberately
> built into roofing slabs, or the floor of temples in ancient India
> (not simply scratched onto the surface).
> It might have been the same religious ideas that underlie these
> carvings, both in Europe and in India. In case of the temple at Kurna
> the worshippers might feel that there is something amiss, so they make
> these carvings. Perhaps they had even been to India and been affected
> by their tradition.
> Of course, in a Christian Cathedral such a practice would be regarded
> as pagan by the abbot, but the unconscious is powerful and, after
> all, the game board is in the form of a cross. Would monks scratch
> graffiti on their own holy cloister? I'd argue that they saw this
> game, in itself, as holy.
> Pagan religiousness is somewhat different from the modern. The
> ancients didn't differ so strongly between the sacred and the profane.
> Although they did play the game for fun it was also regarded as a
> divine act, a ritual that one could make divinatory inferences from.
> There is a book on this subject which I haven't read yet: "Games of
> the Gods : The Origin of Board Games in Magic and Divination" by Nigel
> Pennick.
> This phenomenon of how the divine coincides with the profane is
> evident in religious history. Rangachar Vasantha says that "[c]hess
> was genetically linked to magical and religious rituals, which have
> been known in India from ancient times. Chess and other board games
> were derived from, and the moves of the pieces are being closely
> related to the movements of the celestial bodies and their numerical
> symbolism."
> We modern people tend to see chess as simply a martial game for
> entertainment. But such a simplistic view was unthinkable for the
> ancient people. Pavle Bidev discusses these issues and how Murray,
> typically, rejected the notion that original chess was "based upon
> certain fundamental conceptions of the Universe."
> http://www.goddesschess.com/chessays/bidev1.html
> So these games at holy places could, in some sense, have been
> deliberate sacrifices to the gods, and the spirits of the dead, for
> their pleasure and entertainment. In the Christian context the
> encircling of the Fox could be viewed as an expression of the cloister
> community's continuous work to encircle Christ. I mean, it could be
> viewed as an unconscious expression. Thus, it is not wholly
> profane.
> A good example of a "holy game" was the Egyptian Senet. The
> "...stratagems of the game reflect nothing less than the stratagems of
> the gods, [and] senet, when properly understood, can reveal
> essential Egyptian religious beliefs about the afterlife."
> http://www.ahs.uwaterloo.ca/~museum/Archives/Piccione/
> Mats

I have thought some more on this. Why would they carve morris boards
on the misericords, etc? When people lean over a board game it
resembles very much a situation of deep contemplation, which was a
religious ideal in medieval times. I remember when I was playing chess
actively that I could be troubled and depressed by my life's
situation, but when I concentrated over a chess board then it was like
the outer world vanished for a while and the troubles and inner
turmoil ceased. So it has the same effect as contemplation and prayer,
that is, the outer world is relativized and you are "lifted out" of
the world in a sense and see everything from a vantage point, instead
of being *involved* in the world.

Ancient people must have understood this as a freeing from the
material world and entering into a spiritual reality. The board
pattern is a door into this spiritual vantage point, a relative
liberation from the material world. In Eastern meditation practices
they sometimes make use of "mandala" patterns which are meant to
sustain inner concentration. Game patterns are, in essence, mandalas.

Involvement in the world implies that the soul is split. If one
liberates oneself from inner turmoil one acquires wholeness of the
soul, that is serenity and 'holiness' (which is the same word as
wholeness.) So these game carvings were expected to aid the worshipper
in acquiring serenity of the soul. It didn't matter if the patterns
weren't visible. As they believed in a spiritual reality these
patterns had an effect on that spiritual reality that surrounded them.
To have such a pattern before one's eyes sustained concentration. But
it was also beneficial to sit on such a pattern carved on the seat, or
having such a pattern above one's head on the roofing tiles.


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