The difference lies in value. In a materialistic culture,
we value that which serves a material function. In a traditional society, material
function and symbolic function coincide.
So, to the
first peoples of Europe, a standing stone often performed a function more than boundary or
burial marker. Symbolically, it localized the sacred centre of the universe, the
axis of the world, a direct connection with heaven.
The dressing of the stone was often kept to a minimum,
abraded where necessary, then decorated. This decoration was functional. It enhanced the
stone to become the cosmic axis which it symbolized. The well-being of the surrounding
earth and its inhabitants depended upon the functioning of this sacred stone.
There is a story of a group of Bushmen who walked from
place to place carrying a sacred pole. They believed that this pole was the same one the
Creator had come down to create the world, and by which had returned to heaven. This pole
was the most sacred possession of this people, the axis of their world, connected to their
The function of pole was quite non-material, yet so
necessary that when at last it disintegrated, the whole tribe lay down to await death.
There was nothing else for them to live for.
A similar function was performed by the standing stones of
ancient Europe, and this transformation of a stone into symbol necessary to survival was
made effective by the application of ornament.