Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Durham - Old English Anglo Saxon Poem

Documentary: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight



Poet Simon Armitage goes on the trail of one of the jewels in the crown of British poetry, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written about 600 years ago by an unknown author. The poem has got just about everything - it is an action-packed adventure, a ghost story, a steamy romance, a morality tale and the world's first eco-poem.
Armitage follows in the footsteps of the poem's hero, Gawain, through some of Britain's most beautiful and mystical landscapes and reveals why an absurd tale of a knight beheading a green giant is as relevant and compelling today as when it was written.

This programme is part of Norman Season on BBC Two and BBC Four, a collection of programmes highlighting the effect that the Normans have had on our civilisation.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Documentary: Adders in Britain

Monday, 12 December 2011

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Darklord - Narrow Escape (Demo)



Sinister Synth ala John Carpenter, Ennio Morricone or Vangelis

Monday, 5 December 2011

Legacy of eugenics: mini-lecture



the exhibit on francis galton is at UCL now

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Best Rolling Stones Covers

The Meteors - Get Off Of My Cloud


Cock Sparrer - "We Love You"


Pussy Galore "Rocks Off" 1987

Friday, 4 November 2011

Monday, 31 October 2011

Flare Up At Shetland



broadcast in 1973

Sunday, 30 October 2011

What is Cultural Marxism?



The term cultural Marxism has gained monemtum recently. It refers to an ideological movement that began with the Frankfurt school of Marxist thought which views culture as a central battleground for the advance of global Marxism. The mass media and all Western academic institutions are completely infiltrated by Cultural Marxist perspectives such as Critical Theory. Being a cultural Marxist is not the same as being a traditional Marxist, as the former no longer depend on the revolutionary potential of the proletariat, focusing instead on indoctrination of the Middle Class. Cultural Marxism is cultural destruction; attacking religion, government, the family, gender roles, European ethnic identities and any other traditions or institutions that are deemed obstacles to the foundation of an international Marxist state.

This way of looking at the world and the media is sometimes described as 'political correctness' though the two are not the same thing, the latter may be regarded as a product of the former. Cultural Marxism plays an important role in many university degrees, particularly in the field of media. All media graduates in the UK now have some experience of the theories of Antionio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. These theories are highly regarded within the field of media and have influenced the way it has developed over the 20th and 21st centuries. Almost all cultural institutions in the UK are now influenced by the dogma of the cult of cultural Marxism.

Here Horkheimer explains some of their goals.



Marcuse on the elitism of the Frankfurt school - the hypocrisy of this so called working class movement.




The discipline of critical theory, compulsary cultural suicide.








A documentary from an American perspective on the effect of cultural marxism

Pavlov's Children - Little Douglas




This is a video for a great new London noise duo, Pavlov's children.

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Banning of Oi! Political Subversion in Popular Music


It has long been known that music has the power to inspire emotion into the hearts of audiences, this fact has been utilised historically by politicians, activists, military leaders, musicians and film makers as a way of manipulating the subconscious of the listener into considering a certain ideological message to be more credible.

“Plato worried that music might generate lawlessness; new types of song and forms of music that were created within a society, or music that came from outside, could have a direct impact on the entire society.” Negus (p. 200)

Words that on their own have little effect on those who hear them attain new significance and meaning when spoken or sang over a piece of music. The political sentiment or intent of the artist is sometimes manipulated and assigned new political meanings by those who wish to benefit from the ideological power music has.

“In 1987 Imagine was collectively sung at a Conservative party conference in Britain to greet Margaret Thatcher – one of Britain’s most right-wing leaders, who led one of the governments least sympathetic to social democratic principles since the Second World War.” Negus (p.195)

John Lennon’s Imagine is largely recognised as an expression of socialist values; however it was effectively used in an opposing political context by the Conservative party. This can be seen as an example of the Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony in which those with power adopt a variety of cultural symbols to promote their own ideological message. In Britain during the 1970s and 1980s there was a great deal of music associated with both left and right wing politics. Both used the issue of racial tension as a way of rallying support for their causes.


The Rock Against Racism (RAR) concerts started in the 1970’s and were associated with punk rock and reggae music, the movement claimed to be a response against racist organizations but was also clearly an attack on opposing political values. “It was a movement formed in reaction to rising xenophobia and racism fuelled by Nazi organisations like the National Front.” (RAR website) popular punk musicians such as Tom Robinson, The Clash and X-Ray Spex were aligned to the movement, however all of those were renowned for the belief in left wing politics. The movement attracted its following through talk of racial equality and ending violent attacks, but beneath these objectives was the hidden motive to subvert Marxist politics to a generation of young and impressionable music fans.

“RAR strengthened the idea that rock music could be about more than entertainment, and in a sense provided the inspiration for similar campaigns in the 1980s” Shuker

A rival movement Rock Against Communism (RAC) was started in 1978 which also used music to communicate a political message to young people. RAC concerts were usually held in opposition to rival political groups such as Anti-Fascist Action and the Anti-Nazi League. They were often headlined by Skrewdriver, the most well known of right wing punk rock bands, but also featured other prominent groups.

The RAC was loosely associated with organizations like the National Front, and appealed to working class, white rock fans who were opposed to the communist propaganda prevalent in rock music at the time. RAC bands and their fans were concerned with social problems like unemployment and the increasing immigrant population.


“Europe what have they got to do to make you come alive?
What has happened to the heritage that once was yours and mine?
A capitalistic economy, the communists rule the streets
The old people aren't safe outside, what solution do we seek?” Ian Stuart

Skrewdriver – Europe Awake (1984)

The political divide within punk resulted in disturbing outbreaks of violence which prevented bands such as Sham 69 who attracted fans from both political ideologies, from playing gigs. Sham 69 were able to acquire a wide fan base because their lyrics were based on personal politics and the issues that working class people of Britain are familiar with such as drinking, football, unemployment and a general mistrust of all politicians. This was noticeably different from Tom Robinson, Billy Bragg and Skrewdriver who were vocal about their political ideologies and used music as a way of trying to influence others and align them to their own ideology.

Other bands started to do the same and eventually a sub-genre of punk was formed known as Oi! the creation of which was credited to journalist Garry Bushell who intended to help launch a genuinely working class punk movement with the emphasis on skinheads. Oi! differed from punk because it attracted more of a skinhead audience; creating rock music with specific relevance to the British working class. However as with Sham69, the non political music attracted a politically active fan base.


“A big problem with skinheads was despite their fondness of Jamaican music, many 60s/early 70s skins were, paradoxically, racist. To Bushell and the majority of the ‘New Breed’, skin was much more innocent, an affirmation of working class pride” Terrorizer#96 January 2002

The movement was subject to much criticism and was accused of being racist. Although there were leftist political Oi! bands such as The Oppressed and The Angelic Upstarts who were both vocal about their socialist beliefs, the majority of Oi! bands were proud of their anti-political message that suggested people could make their own decisions without aligning themselves to a preconceived political ideology. The movement undeniably attracted a partially racist audience which resulted in a riot in Southall July 1981 after members of the local Asian community set fire to the Hamborough Tavern which was hosting an Oi! concert featuring The Business, The Last Resort and 4 Skins, none of whom were racist bands. The bands went to organizations such as RAR in an attempt be cleared of the racist tag assigned to them by misinformed media correspondents, like those working for the BBC, but they faced difficulties.

“One such difficulty arose in 1981, when a concert was organized under the banner of ‘Oi! Against Racism’ [...] Proponents of Oi, who defended it as working class music, not white music, wanted to polish its tarnished image through links with RAR. But RAR were wary of such moves, and they turned down a suggestion for a gig under the RAR banner in Southall; the bill was to have included a reggae band, An Asian group, and the 4 Skins […] RAR were suspicious of both the interests of the organizers and of the motives of the 4 Skins, and made their own counter suggestion: an Anti-Racist Skinhead concert in Sheffield, where local skinheads had been vocal in their denunciation of racism. RAR also suggested that none of the Southall bands be involved, preferring an Oi group with proven support for RAR.” (Street, 1986,)

This is evidence of the hidden motives of musical organizations like RAR and ANTIFA. Their intention was not merely to eliminate racism from youth culture, but to use this goal as a means to rally support for an exclusively Communist movement the festivals of which had no room for bands that merely wanted to express their support for anti-racist causes. Such events have come under media criticism for failing to make any progress in race relations in Britain as a result of their policy only to preach to the converted.

“The last festival of this ilk that I attended, in Burgess Park in South London, was a wonderful day out – but I do not recall a single person uttering to their skinhead mate; “It was a good thing I came today. I was racist but now I’ve seen the light.” Instead, what I saw, among the youths on a day out with their mates, were thousands of middle-class white folks patting themselves on the back for being so tolerant.” Taylor, The Guardian

The Oi! movement became a taboo subject in media and journalism circles after being tarnished by the right wing image associated with what was in fact a small minority of fans. The lyrics of the songs, however,  demonstrated mistrust of politicians from both sides.



“Vote for Maggie Thatcher or Tony Benn, you’ll always lose you’ll never win.”
4 Skins – Manifesto (1982)

The racist element was exaggerated by left wing organizations who were threatened by a movement that encouraged young people to question the left wing hegemony in anti-Thatcherite politics. But it was the media’s demonisation of Oi fans as racist skinhead yobs that led to a moral panic and ultimately censorship of the music from broadcast, performance and distribution. There are eye witness accounts of journalists from The Times paying crowds of young skinheads to "Sieg Heil" for the camera so that the photograph would support the accusations made so frequently in reports. Cohen explains how a moral panic may arise around the emergence of a youth subculture.

“A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to be defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible.”
(Cohen, 1980: 9)



BBC news broadcasted an expose on Oi! interviewing the 4-skins and doing their best to depict the movement as a dangerous and racist one. Only DJ John Peel leapt to the defense of the movement, pointing out that unlike 4skins, popular acts such as Joy Division did use Nazi imagery and slogans in their lyrics but were not attacked by the media. The focus of the program, other than the Southall riots, was journalist Garry Bushell’s compilation ‘Strength thru Oi!’ (1981) which shop keepers were arrested for attempting to sell after it was learned that the title was a play on the Nazi slogan ‘strength through joy’ The bands on the compilation were not racist but the lyrics did encourage violence against police officers which contributed to it being banned.




The movement was therefore attacked by left wing movements and media for accusations of racism, but also attacked by the right wing conservative government who banned the music from being sold, broadcast or performed in Britain. Oi! is comparable to rap in the fact that the controversial issues raised by young musicians were attacked by both the right and left wing.

“In 1990 rap music became the main target of the anti-rock, pro censorship lobby. The new genre had already been attacked from the left for its sexism and homophobia, and was now criticized from the right for its profanity and obscenity.” Shuker (page 267)

Like gangster rap, Oi! music was criticized for advocating violence and general encouragement of criminal activity (theft, benefit fraud, football violence). Unlike rap, oi music rarely glamorized violence, and condemned the use of guns. Oi! described how those born into poverty must adopt violent behavior in order to survive; it also has a strong sense of community and family values which generates the patriotic element of the movement which some misinterpreted as fascism. If the movement were right wing in the institutional sense then it would have been unlikely that the Conservative government would have opposed it. The movement was above all else a reaction against Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative government of the 1980’s.



“Margaret Thatcher the stupid bitch

Takes from the poor and gives to the rich

She thinks we can’t see her plan,

To kill the spirit of the working class man,

Make us redundant; put us on the dole,

Put us in prison without parole.”

The Last Resort – We Rule O.K.

The fact that the bands were so critical of the Conservative government and left wing activists is probably the most likely reason that the movement was so viciously slandered and attacked by the respective camps. This is why two opposing political ideologies were able to unite in the common purpose of banning an art form that encouraged intellectual working class independence and a coherent national identity for British youth. The climate of fear generated by the media was required in order to rally public hatred against the movement.

“a moral panic takes place within what Gramsci defines as a developing ‘crisis of hegemony’, arising out of a particular historical context where the dominant class is endeavouring to win domination and consent through ideological means.” Shuker

Although claiming to be non-political the politics of the genre were clear, they were an expression of the real activities that young men were occupying their time with in 1980’s Britain. The way the media, government and certain leftist political organizations tried to censor the movement is comparable to the efforts of the Nazi party attempting to ban jazz music in Germany during World War Two.

“The Nazi party were particularly concerned about the influence of jazz, which was considered to be a ‘degenerate music’ […] The Nazis began further to regulate the repertoire that musicians used in performance and also monitored and controlled the catalogues of songs that were printed and distributed by music publishers.” Negus

By this definition the actions of the Conservative government and of ANTIFA and RAR attempting to regulate freedom of expression through music are more comparable to the actions of the Nazi party than those of the young men who expressed criticism of the government and other political organizations through the medium of Oi! music.


Bibliography
Cohen, S (1980) Folk Devils and Moral Panics, Oxford: Robertson
Street, J. (1986) Rebel Rock: The Politics of Popular Music, London: Blackwell
Taylor, A. Music Festivals against racism give everyone a grand day out – but are they any use? Monday May 29, 2006 The Guardian
Negus, K, (1996) Popular Music in Theory: An Introduction. Polity
Shuker, R, (2002) Understanding Popular Music. Routledge
Selzer, J(January 2002) Under the Skin. Terrorizer issue number 96
RAR website
Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence and Wishart.


Discography

4-Skins – ‘The good the bad and the 4-skins’ Secret Records, 1982
The Last Resort – ‘A way of life’ Captain Oi! 1982
The Business – ‘The anger and the truth’ Hellcat records, 1997
Skrewdriver – ‘Hail the New Dawn’ LP.’ Rock-O-Rama. 1984

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Caedmon's Hymn

Monday, 17 October 2011

Shakespeare: Original pronunciation

Friday, 14 October 2011

Film: ORDET



Ordet is a classic Danish film from 1955.

A farmers family is torn apart by faith, sanctity, and love — One child believes he is Jesus Christ, a second proclaims himself agnostic and the third falls in love with a Christian fundamentalist's daughter. An analysis of religious difference and the cultural effects of it, Ordt (The Word) is a challenge to simple facts and dogmatic orthodoxy. Layering multiple stories of faith and rebellion, Dryers adaptation of Kj Munk's play quietly builds towards a shattering, miraculous climax.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Picts Of Scotland

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

New Mural in Whitechapel

Taken from East London Advertiser

"A 40ft high mural painted on the side of a building showing characters like the Krays and the Elephant Man has been unveiled along the ‘2012 Olympics Highway’ in London’s East End.

The mural telling the story of Whitechapel took six weeks of painting by artists Mychael Barratt, Nicholas Middleton and Jim Glover, commissioned by TV Edwards solicitors for their new offices in the Mile End Road.

People depicted on the mural include Captain James Cook who kept a house in the Mile End Road, Salvation Army founder General Booth whose monument is outside the building, and George Bernard Shaw who chaired the Fabian Society in Whitechapel, as well as the Krays, the Elephant Man, artists Mark Gertler and Isaac Rosenberg and TV Edwards himself who opened his first law office in Stepney in 1929."

George Bernard Shaw is the most prominent feature of the mural, depicted shielding his eyes as though looking into the far distance. He was an outspoken socialist eugenicist, it is interesting therefore that his head partially conceals John Merrick, the Elephant Man.

Monday, 19 September 2011

These Can Be Yours (1949)

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Survive the Jive - Logo Explained




The rune that is used as the logo for Survive the Jive is an ancient Anglo Saxon and Norse character from the runic alphabet. This rune is known by many names;- Algiz, Ehaz, Eolh, Madhr, the Man Rune and the Life Rune or leben rune.



The rune is equated to the modern day z, however was traditionally pronounced yr. The meaning of the rune is debated, but in Anglo Saxon it meant 'elk sedge', a type of wetland plant, it is popularly thought to be a symbol of life, mankind and survival, hence its use as a logo for Survive the Jive.



The Rune is also representative of the world tree, Yggdrasil or Irminsul and thus symbolises a connection between the earthly and the divine.



In the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, the shape of the rune appears in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc alphabet, as ᛉ Eolh. However, instead of representing the sounds of the letter "Z" as in the Elder Futhark and Gothic Futhark, it here represents the sound of the letter "X".





Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem


Eolh-secg eard hæfþ oftust on fenne
wexeð on wature, wundaþ grimme
blode breneð beorna gehwylcne
ðe him ænigne onfeng gedeþ.

Modern English translation

The Elk-sedge usually lives in the fen,
growing in the water. It wounds severely,
staining with blood any man
who makes a grab at it.


Saturday, 27 August 2011

Drink Old England Dry

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Documentary: Jainism


This is a documentary about Jainism. Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state of supreme being is called Jina "Conqueror, Victor". Jainism is also referred to as Shramana "self-reliant" Dharma or the religion of Nirgrantha "those without ties" by ancient texts.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Anglo Saxon Poetry Playlist



Very Old Anglo Saxon poetry in Old English or translated from Old English into modern English. There are 20 videos in this playlist.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

That Thar Some Fancy Pickin'





What is it about the sound of fast picking bluegrass banjo that evokes a riotous chaotic impulse? Though comical to some by its association with a rural culture that is depicted as antiquated by the media, it still holds a power over people and they can't help but smile when they hear it.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Oss Oss Wee Oss - Morris dancing



This extract from Alan Lomax's powerful actuality film Oss Oss Wee Oss (1953) captures Padstow, Cornwall's 'sexy, savage' May Day rites of yore.

Oss Oss Wee Oss is available on the BFI's new DVD collection, Here's a Health to the Barley Mow: A century of folk customs and ancient rural games, a double-disc set of newly remastered poetic documentaries, long-unseen television reports and rare silent film footage, exploring the enduring folk traditions of Great Britain.




Here's a Health to The Barley Mow is available to order here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0051FBKWQ

Friday, 29 July 2011

Fiorucci made me Hardcore



Northern soul, ovaltine rave and 90's madness

John Maus - Don't Be a Body



SEX WITH CAR , SEX WITH RINGO STARR

Synth master John Maus wrote this amusing musical interpretation of the novel 'Crash' by JG Ballard

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Incredible Venezuelan Folk

EL CARRAO DE PALMARITO - FURIA

Joropo is a type of folk music played in Los LLanos, the swamplands of Venezuela. It is characterized by the rhythmical strumming of the South American steel harp. EL CARRAO DE PALMARITO is in my opinion the best joropo musician ever!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Carl Sagan on Hinduism

Are Men the dreams of the Gods or are the Gods the dreams of Men?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Cock Sparrer - The Sun Says



This song is dedicated to Rupert Murdoch and all the staff at the News of the World.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Terrible Twins - Generation Of Scars



This is a skinhead classic for any Oi! fans

featureless GHOST - SCANPROOF




Video for "SCANPROOF" by
featureless GHOST

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Wisdom of Nietzsche

Documentary: Disabled Viking- Ivar the Boneless



This documentary argues that the ruthless viking leader, Ivar the boneless, suffered from Osteogenesis imperfecta.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Frank Duval - Ogon (1983)


Awesome B-side taken from the single 'Give Me Your Love' (1983)

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Kinski & the Butterfly

klaus kinski

Monday, 27 June 2011

Matsumoto Toshio MONA LISA-1973

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Clams Casino- Natural



Clams Casino music video with scenes from Herzog's Aguirre the wrath of God

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Harald Grosskopf - Emphasis

Harald Grosskopf - Emphasis from headroom films on Vimeo.




I been away awhile in Asia. I return to show Adriana Alba’s awesome video for Harald Grosskopf’s Emphasis. Kraut rock returns!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Boyd Rice Interview - Back to Mono




Ex-head of the church of satan, friend of Charles Manson, mentor of Marilyn Manson, descendant of Jesus Christ, social darwinist, neo-pagan, founder of noise core, electronic pioneer and alleged crypto-fascist; Boyd Rice’s CV is as impressive as it is controversial.

Since the mid 70’s he has produced some of the most challenging and original recorded music in history. The sheer emotion, untamed structure and raw, uncompromising sounds are made all the more intriguing by the accompaniment of fascistic imagery and occultist aesthetics.

NON is perhaps his most famous music project. NON’s last record, ‘Children of the black sun’ was released on Mute records in 2002 and tended toward the dark ambient sound of his other projects. The next record ‘Back to mono’ is a return to the abrasive noise of his early years and is to be released this Summer. Survive the Jive caught up with Boyd at the recent Short circuit festival in Camden to find out what we can expect from this most eccentric and enigmatic of performers in the future.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Physics - ice 7

New EP from Physics, out on AM-Discs. Retro analogue aesthetic for the modern apathetic.

download the mp3 here Physics - Ice 7

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Ganglians - Jungle

Ganglians - Jungle from Pete Dee on Vimeo.



Awesome new video for Ganglians by Pete Dee and Polly Philp.

You can read an interview i did with Ganglians HERE

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Mariah - 心臓の扉 (Shinzo No Tobira)

I was listening to the fantastic Evening shadows mix by Jamie Tiller which you can download (HERE) and fell in love with this beautiful song. The best of Japanese new wave!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Documentary: Viking Journeys

An American documentary about the Viking age. It covers the invasion of Britain, the foundation of Russia and the discovery of Iceland and Vinland. Includes some beautiful footage of the Icelandic landscape




Thursday, 19 May 2011

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Sandy Farina - Body Talk

I love this tune, needs a decent remix

GATEKEEPER - Live in London

Saw these guys at electrowerks on Saturday and put together this video.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Friday, 6 May 2011

Cankun - Mundaka

Friday, 29 April 2011

Summer Gifs


Summer vibes and Winter jibes



Selection of photos I took in 2009 with a canon eos 30. (click for larger images)





Wednesday, 27 April 2011

From Woden to Christ - the Conversion of England






"A shift from one religion to another is not like taking off one hat and putting on another. It is more like putting on a new head" (Robert Bartlett).

 Thomas Rowsell

Robert Bartlett’s statement is intended as a warning to historians who downplay the significance that religious conversion can have on a culture. One may interpret it as an argument that a nation cannot convert to another religion, the cultural values of which may have far reaching social and political significance on all levels of society, without becoming a new and different nation in the process. With specific reference to the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England, from Germanic paganism to Catholicism between the 5th and 6th centuries, I will explore this statement and consider its validity in an effort to better understand the two cultures involved.

Migration routes of the "English" peoples.

While Christianity is still practiced to this day, and information on its values and history are readily available, the details of the pre-Christian religions of Northern Europe are comparatively obscure. What we know about English paganism and the culture of those who practiced it is primarily sourced from speculative interpretation of archaeological finds combined with contemporary or near contemporary Christian literary sources like Bede’s Ecclesiastical history of the English People (8th century), Beowulf (8th-11th century) and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (9th century).
“..the representations of pagan religion all come from hostile Christian sources, predominantly of a missionary nature. To seek to understand native paganism from missionary literature is a little like attempting to form a picture of twentieth-century British socialism from the speeches of Margaret Thatcher.” (Bartlett: 1998, p.56)
Despite the biased nature of the sources, one may reach some conclusions on the ideological nature of the pagan religion by their recorded attitudes toward the new faith as well as the potential motives for conversion. The importance of the monarchy’s role in the conversion must not be underestimated despite the fact that the roots of monarchy are inherently anti-Christian in nature, with kings and noblemen tracing their heritage back to the war god Woden.
“The first chieftains are said to have been the brothers Hengist and Horsa...They were the sons of Wictgils, whose father was Witta, whose father was Wecta, son of Woden, from whose stock sprang the royal houses of many provinces.” (Bede: 1990, p.63)

These Pagan god-kings were proud of their heritage but were happy to marry Christians if it was politically advantageous, as it was for King Ethelbert in 597AD. He received his Christian wife, Bertha, of the Frankish royal house; on the condition that she could still practice her faith and that she would be accompanied by Bishop Liudhard (Bede: 1990, p.75)

The fact that pagans and Christians existed in the same household as well as the same marriage bed lends weight to the argument that early medieval England was a multi-faith society but the arrival of Christianity may not have been recognised as the arrival of an entirely new spiritual ideology, as King Redwald’s misinterpretation of monotheism demonstrates. 

“... he tried to serve both Christ and the ancient gods, and he had in the same shrine an altar for the holy sacrifice of Christ side by side with a small altar on which victims were offered to devils.” (Bede: 1990, p.133)

Perhaps it was this willingness to incorporate the perceived power of new deities into their existing pantheons which enabled Christianity to get a foothold in Northern Europe. The wealth and power of Rome attracted barbarian merchants who may have been influenced by the new faith. This was the case for the Swedes, whose religion was similar to that of the English.

“..the Swedes ‘decided to enquire by lots whether their gods were willing to help them....after the lots had been cast, they were not able to find any god willing to bring them aid...’ Finally, some of the Swedes who had traded in Western Europe suggested trying ‘the god of the Christians’. (Bartlett:1998, p59)

Though it is the case for these Swedish pagans, it cannot be said that all pagans were as willing to dabble in the mysticism of Christianity, particularly as many converts were persecuted.
“Converts to Christianity were frequently reproached by fellow pagans for abandoning ‘the laws of their fathers’ or the ‘laws of the father-land” (Bartlett: 1998, p75)

These pagan traditions permeated not only the spiritual dimension but also the social hierarchy of English societies, so that even when the church succeeded in converting a king, rebellion and relapse into paganism were still a threat.

“Not long after Earpwald’s acceptance of Christianity, he was killed by a pagan named Ricbert, and for three years the province relapsed into heathendom.” (Bede: 1990, p.132) 

Even the converted royal houses themselves were prone to relapse. This was the case for the Christian King Sabert of the East Saxons, who left his three pagan sons to inherit his kingdom. The sons believed that the Eucharist would strengthen them, but refused to be baptised. Bishop Mellitus would not allow them to take the bread and water and so he and his followers were banished from Essex. (Bede: 1990, p.112)

Bede also tells of how king Edwin of Northumbria converted to Christ as did Coifi, the high priest of the pagan temple there. Bede’s telling of the story depicts Coifi as an antagonist who leads the way for Christian conversion, “I submit that the temples and altars that we have dedicated to no advantage be immediately desecrated and burned.’ (Bede: 1990)

One would imagine that if both the high priest and the ruler of a kingdom were to abandon the old religion, it was surely doomed. It is of interest therefore, that Edwin’s successors reverted to paganism as though these events had never occurred.

“As soon as they had obtained control of their earthly kingdoms, however, both these kings apostatized from the faith of the kingdom of heaven which they had accepted, and reverted to the corruption and damnation of their former idolatry.” (Bede: 1990, p.143)

The causes of conversion and relapse were varied, but similar in each case. While conversion may secure stronger allegiances and trade routes with Southern Europe, it may also aggravate the native aristocracy who were prone to violent rebellion and could have considered Christianity to be a sign of weakness in their leader.

“Sigbert, king of the East Saxons, was murdered by his kinsmen, and when they were asked why they had done it, they had no better answer than that they were incensed ‘because he was too apt to spare his enemies and forgive the wrongs they had done him.’ Barbarian society imposed a positive duty of revenge on all men,” (Mayr-Harting: 1991, p.20)

The clergy could depict victory or defeat in battle as evidence of the power of the Christian God. This strategy was particularly effective in the case of King Edwin. “The king ...promised that if God would grant him life and victory over... his enemy..., he would renounce his idols and serve Christ.” (Bede: 1990) This was a bold promise, and one that risked backfiring if misfortune were to befall the Christian converts, as it did to those in Essex in 665AD when a plague caused a relapse into paganism (Bede:1990). 

Widespread destruction of temples and idols, as executed by Earconbert, King of Kent in 640AD (Bede: 1990), is likely to have been a more powerful and enduring method of converting the heathens and preventing relapse. 

Upon hearing of the relapses and failed conversions in England, Bishop Aidan of Ireland, a great stronghold of Christianity in North-Western Europe, recommended a less aggressive method of persuading pagans to convert, as related by Bede in the ecclesiastical history.
“You should have followed the examples of the Apostles, and begun by giving them the milk of simpler teaching, and gradually nourished them with the word of God until they were capable of greater perfection and able to follow the loftier precepts of Christ.” (Bede: 1990 p.151)

The Ruthwell cross - combines pagan and Christian imagery, 7th century

Though in some cases the rulers of England may have heeded Aidan’s words, the conversion of a leader to the new faith would undoubtedly have had negative consequences for any heathens living in that region, as it did for those in Kent after King Ethelbert’s conversion in the late 6th century. Though he did not force pagans to convert, he showed “greater favour to believers, because they were fellow citizens of the kingdom of heaven.” (Bede: 1990, p.77)

The process of conversion was not only instigated by missionaries from Ireland or Rome. It could also, as previously mentioned, come from within the royal house. Christian royalty could be subject to pressure from the English church, or even from Rome directly, to convert their kinsmen. Pope Boniface’s letter to Queen Ethelberga, regarding her pagan husband, unapologetically manipulates the institutions of both marriage and monarchy in an effort to pressure her into converting the King. (Bede: 1990, p.124)

The Pope’s Letters that Bede included in his ecclesiastical history show the military and political power Rome was able to exert on the English populace through the monarchy. A letter from Pope Gregory to Abbot Mellitus, written in 601AD, requests that the temples of the English idols are not to be destroyed, but instead only the idols destroyed and replaced with altars, holy water and relics.(Bede: 1990, p.92) Bede may have intended the letter to be evidence of a peaceful conversion but it seems likely there would have been those who opposed the destruction of the idols.


Legal and military power had to be exerted to deprive the people of their old ways. The preservation of the pagan religions of Europe depended on oral traditions of storytelling, folk customs and songs that were passed down through generations. “One thing that Christianity did offer that must be mentioned at once – a thing that, in the main, the older religions did not – was literacy,” (Bartlett: 1998, p56)

Without written histories to preserve the old ways, they were more vulnerable to the effects of persecution. Christianity thrives in such adverse conditions; its message is preserved in the Bible. This was not the case for paganism. English law was implemented in such a way that favoured the converted over the heathen and also made practice of the English religion dangerous.

“Injunctions against tree worship, well worship and stone worship begin in England in the first generations of the new Church and continue in an unbroken series down to the Reformation, and beyond.” (Bartlett: 1998, p71)

The monarchs who were willing to submit their people to these injunctions did not decide to do so lightly. Indeed, there are some instances when instigating conversion may have put their very lives at risk. Ultimately, however, we can be sure that the benefits outweighed the dangers to these Kings, or they would never have converted. 

“..it was worth having the notice of the pope and being drawn closer to the civilised and wealthy axis of Mediterranean life. More particularly... the Christian god seemed to serve his adherents well in battle.” (Mayr-Harting: 1991, p.63)

One may compare the difficult decisions that the Anglo-Saxon rulers had to make to those of modern Sheikhs in the Middle East, whose loyalties to the conventionally Islamic populace are sometimes at odds with their desire to play a more significant role in international commerce and the global political stage. While conversion triggered rebellions among the general populace and even the aristocracy, the kings had economic and political interests to consider. They could not pass up on an opportunity to establish a more lucrative relationship with the Christian nations of the Mediterranean.
“The church offered a symbolic and factual connection with pan-continental politico-cultural norms.” (Urbanczyk in Carver: 2003, p.16)

The wealth of the South was not the only appeal of Christianity to the previously pagan rulers. The literary nature of the religion required a literate priestly cast, fluent in both Latin and English, who required the protection of the monarchy to be able to spread their religion without fear of persecution. The relationship between the clergy and the monarchy has therefore been close from the very beginning. “From the start the church acknowledged its helplessness without the support and protection of kings.” (Mayr-Harting: 1991) The kings were aware of this but stood to benefit as much as the clergy. The new era of bureaucracy that the pan-continental religion ushered in, provided a means for the monarchy to secure its power.

“The advice and legal knowledge of churchmen enabled kings to show forth their kingship in a new way by the issue of codes of law, which became increasingly sophisticated; churches provided honourable resting places for kings and queens, and ensured the permanence of their fame.; the fortunes of individual kings could be radically affected by their association with saints,” (Mayr-Harting: 1991, p.249)

Though the benefits that Christianity offered the rulers of England were enough to encourage them to convert and cause their kingdoms to follow suit, they were not sufficient to cause a complete overhaul of the pagan culture. Even today, the days of the week are named after the pagan gods and the dates of the Christian festivals are fixed upon dates already associated with ancient pagan celebrations (Hutton: 2000:285).

As mentioned previously, the church was keen to incorporate certain aspects of the pre-Christian culture in an effort to minimise cultural disruption and the likelihood of pagan rebellion and spiritual relapse. This was important to the process of conversion but also allowed for religious misinterpretation and the preservation of stubbornly enduring cultural habits. “By the ninth century kings underwent a Christian ceremony of consecration and anointing, but they continued to trace their genealogies back to Woden.” (Mayr-Harting: 1991, p.220)

It can be argued that the enduring influence of Woden on monarchic inheritance was not so much the residual pagan culture corrupting the new Christian one, but rather the continuation of a political tradition that saw a close relationship between state and religious authority.
“In pre-Christian societies individuals who aspired to dominating social positions could strengthen their power by combining the functions of military political leadership with religious leadership.” (Urbanczyk in Carver: 2003, p.19)

Not only was Roman Catholicism in England influenced by the existing cultural traditions of pagan England, but it had also previously been influenced by Temple Judaism and by Roman paganism. While human sacrifice was prevalent throughout most of pagan Europe (Bartlett :1998) it had also been practiced in temple Judaism.

“Christianity is the direct descendant of a religion – Temple Judaism – that had given a central place to animal sacrifice...This was not a feature it perpetuated ...Yet Christians were rooted in a sacrificial tradition that left an imprint on their language and thought. Although no animals or humans were to be sacrificed to God, the terminology and concept of sacrifice was not abandoned but deepened.” (Bartlett: 1998, p.64)

Though the pagan traditions of human and animal sacrifice had been abolished, the converted English were likely to have been familiar with the nomenclature of sacrifice and sacred blood that is associated with Catholicism. Sacrifice may well have been the most significant spiritual act that a pagan could make. It is an activity that sunk from a sacred act to one of barbaric ignorance in the minds of the converted populace, but through the terminology of Christ’s sacrifice and the Catholic practice of making offerings to Saints, it has endured into the Christian era. 

“The distinction between Christianity and paganism is not between a non-sacrificial religion and a sacrificial religion but between two rival conceptions of sacrifice.” (Bartlett, 1998, p.66)

Such evidence of pagan influence on Christianity defies Bartlett’s statement in the title of this essay and could lead one to believe that the process of religious conversion was an insignificant occurrence to some people. But while the pagan reactions to the new religion were varied, some regarding it as an invasive ideology, others merely as the introduction of yet another deity to their pantheon, the way that Christians regarded the pagans was uniform. “Paganism was indeed understood by Christian thinkers as worship of demons.” (Bartlett: 1998)

So previously law abiding serfs were rendered heretics and witches as a result of the conversion. As a result, it is safe to assume, that many of the old folk customs associated with paganism were destroyed. Though, conversely, Christianity also provided a new legal framework which preserved many of the historic customs of freemen and serfs, which may have previously been vulnerable to shifts in monarchic power. It was the arrival of Christianity that initiated the process by which folk customs became the king’s law (Fletcher, 1997, P118).

The era when these conversions were taking place was one of significant cultural upheavals. Both paganism and Christianity were malleable ideologies, in a state of flux. Pagans were adapting to the arrival of the new Eastern religion, some by incorporating it into the existing spiritual ideology, others through militant rebellion. 

The Christian religion was the subject of much debate around Europe, hundreds of years before the arrival of the Cathars and later the Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church had to suppress Arianism in order to protect the notion of the holy trinity and its ideological and political hegemony across Europe. With Arianism being particularly popular amongst the Germanic peoples, it is little wonder that Rome was keen to bring Britannia, the old Roman colony seized by warlike Germanic tribes, back into their influence before Arianism could take hold. Pope Gregory was well aware that by the 590’s, England was the only successor state that was yet to adopt Christianity (Fletcher, 1997, p.114).

The conversion had both positive and negative implications at all levels of society, and while we can see how the religions influenced each other, it surely caused a significant cultural upheaval in England. Bartlett said it was more like putting on a new head, than a new hat, meaning that the conversion was not merely a superficial change in spiritual aesthetics, but an entirely new cultural tradition. The arrival of the clergy meant an increased influence of foreign power, but it also presented an opportunity for freed slaves and serfs to climb the ranks of society, through devotion to the new God. It created a new social hierarchy, based less on war and heritage and more on literacy and learning.

“The matter of cult, and especially liturgy became the domain of properly prepared specialists who had a monopoly of the interpretation of reality.” (Urbanczyk in Carver: 2003, p.22)

The new hierarchy installed was perhaps the most significant change brought by conversion. The conversion was far from a linear process and is complicated further by the reintroduction of paganism from Scandinavia during the Viking age, beginning in 793. These complications require a clear definition of what is meant by a Christian people. When defining a people as Christian, it is not necessary in this instance for them to follow the word of Christ or even to understand it properly; it can be more simply identified as an absence of pagan worship as the result of Christian law or teaching.

Regardless of what measures the church took to soften the blow of conversion, it still signified a major ideological and cultural change for the people of England. The centres of worship were destroyed, the religious authorities were replaced and the new religion was communicated in a language that few people understood. The ancient practices of sacrifice and divination were abolished (Bartlett: 1998) and though some pagan habits remained, such as the oral tradition of storytelling, overtime many of them were also brought into question. By 797, Catholic monks in Lindisfarne regarded the Viking raids as evidence of God’s anger at them for listening to heathen poems at dinner. (Mayr-Harting: p225)

The conversion from paganism to Christianity was by no means clean cut, but despite this I believe it is more accurately compared to putting on a new head with new ideas allowing for the evolution of a new type of society, rather than merely the putting on of a new hat, creating only the outward appearance of change. The shift from paganism, with ritual sacrifices and kings descended from gods, to Christianity with its literary tradition and kings devoted to God and the Roman Catholic Church, was immense. Though the Anglo-Saxons remained a war like people, divided by tribal loyalties, their conversion to Christianity was a step toward the formation of the English nation.

Bibliography.

ROBERT BARTLETT, 'Reflections on Paganism & Christianity in Medieval Europe' in Proceedings of the British Academy, 101 (1998) pp. 55-76 [on German conversions & E Europe]
HUTTON, R. 2000. The Pagan Religions of the ancient British isles. First ed 1991. Oxford:Blackwell.
HENRY MAYR- HARTING, 'The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England, (3rd ed. Philadelphia, 1991) Bath Press
URBANCZYK, in MARTIN CARVER (ed), ‘The Cross Goes North’ (2003). York Medieval Press.
LEO SHIRLEY-PRICE (translator), BEDE ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English people, (1990). Penguin.
ALCUIN, Vita Willibrodi archiepiscopi Traiectensis, 11, ed. W. Levison, MGH, Scriptores rerum merovingicarum
RICHARD FLETCHER, 'The Conversion of Europe' (London, 1997)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

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Read the rest of Mahinda Weerasinghe's article on the Sri Lankan website http://www.lankaweb.com for an interesting Buddhist perspective on Islam in the 21st century.



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