Nova’s “Ghosts of Murdered Kings”

I recently watched “Ghosts of Murdered Kings” on PBS.  If you follow the link, you’ll be able to stream it on their website.  This documentary focuses on the research surrounding the various bog bodies that have been uncovered throughout much of Northern Europe.  I was able to see some bog bodies in person, first one at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and then in the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland (which I blogged a bit about here).  The later has several on display.  I felt a bit odd typing the previous sentence because there is something deeply humbling and even troubling to me about displaying dead bodies, especially if they were meant to be in the bogs…  But on the other hand, they have taught us so much about the Celts and their beliefs.  They also communicated something almost ineffable about mortality that stayed with me after seeing them.

“Ghosts of Murdered Kings” is another wonderful addition to the NOVA library.  It explores the most recent theories surrounding these bodies.  The prevailing theory seems to be that the bog bodies were usually royalty sacrificed to the land following poor harvests which relates back to the old ritual marriages between rulers and sovereignty Goddesses.  Even having been exposed to this theory before in history books and the National Museum of Ireland, the refresher was welcomed.  I learned several new things about how these theories came to be which gave me a greater appreciation for the scientists who work so diligently.

I recommend this documentary but caution that children might be frightened by it as it shows real corpses and features some minor dramatized violence and discussions of “triple murder” and “overkill.”  It will definitely make you reflect on the practices of our Celtic ancestors and their relationship with the natural world.  Whether such a sacrifice was or still is necessary is not the point – rather, why aren’t we taking our relationship with the land as seriously?  Each of us is married to the land whether we like it or not.  If we fail to respect her while also meeting our needs, what we will we have to give up to change the situation?  What habits should we commit to the bogs to better ourselves and society?

2 thoughts on “Nova’s “Ghosts of Murdered Kings”

  1. The idea that bog bodies are murdered royalty seems to come from Dr Anne Ross, especially her book “Death of a Druid Prince” which is an awful mess of circular thinking and supposition gently morphing into face. It is worth reading the book to see where this comes from, but I am very sad to see the ‘theory’ getting this much publicity. Ronald Hutton has been fighting for some time now, to establish that there are not definitely sacrificial victims – the evidence for sacrifice is actually really thin. Having heard him talk, and read the Druid Prince book, I find Ronald Hutton’s uncertainty far more plausible than Anne Ross’s claims.

    1. Thank you for your reply! I have not read “Death of a Druid Prince,” but I have great respect for Ronald Hutton. I wonder if he addresses his thoughts on the matter in some of his writing? I have yet to come across it, but I have only read a couple of his books. Thank you for bringing his scrutiny to my attention! I will say that I find the theory of sacrificing rulers to sovereignty very intriguing, so I’m interested in what Hutton has to say on it.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: