Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Slavery, Vikings, and Charlemagne

Here is a little bit of synchronicity in my historical reading. I am not sure if it "proves" anything, other than the fact that it is difficult to sort people into "good guys" and "bad guys."

1. At the library, I recently picked up The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: New Directions in Early Medieval Studies, ed. Jennifer R. Davis and Michael McCormick.

I wanted to look for some material on agriculture—the adoption of the three-field system, wheeled plows, etc.—but I was sucked into a chapter entitled, "Strong Rulers—Weak Economy? Rome, the Carolingians and the Archaeology of Slavery in the First Millennium AD" by a German scholar, Joachim Henning.

Here are two figures that I have lifted from his work:

As I used to tell my students when we talked about American religion and slavery, the Roman empire back in Jesus' time ran on slavery the way that our civilization runs on petroleum. (And Jesus had nothing to say about it.)

Slavery requires chains and shackles, lest the slaves wander away. Figure 2.1 is a map of archaeological sites (farms, villas, plantations) containing shackles.

The second figure graphs shackle finds over time in Gaul (France, roughly). They rise during the Roman times, then plunge during the Merovingian dynasty, during the so-called Dark Ages.

But then shackle finds—and hence presumably slavery—rise during the Carologian dynasty. Its founder, Charles Martel (ca. 688-741), stopped the Islamic expansion into Europe. His grandson Charlemagne (Charles the Great) is a huge figure in medieval western European history, but his actions included the slaughter of more than 4,000 Saxons who resisted conversion to Christianity.

There was a European slave trade in Pagan, polytheistic Roman times—and it continued into Christian times, up through the 1400s, at least—and then it was time for Columbus!

2. Meanwhile, a British historian suggests that Viking raids on Europe might have been payback for Charlemagne's forced-conversion program. (Via the Covenant of the Goddess NPIO blog.)

But before you annoint the Vikings as the pro-Pagan "good guys," remember that they were in the slave trade too, particularly in what is now Ireland and Russia.

As some people say about their relationships on Facebook, "It's complicated."

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pagans among Suspects in Priest's Murder

(Welcome, vistors from The Wild Hunt. Stick around, click a few links.)

A Russian Orthodox priest is murdered in his Moscow church, and suspicion falls both on Muslims and on Russian Pagans.

But note the titles of his books.

We know too much about people who shout "Allah Akbar" and then pull the trigger, but why the Pagans? Why bring them into the discussion?

Paganism in Russia is somewhat like what my Anglosphere readers are used to, but there are significant differences. Russian Pagans are more likely to have their own line of "blood and soil" rhetoric and to claim that they represent the true spirituality of their people, which puts them in direct conflict with the Orthodox Church, which itself has made that same claim since the 10th century.

The Russian anthropologist Victor Shnirelman is one scholar who has written a lot of on the topic. Being Jewish (as I understand), he is particularly sensitive to whiffs of antisemitism, as in this article, "Russian Neopagan Myths and Antisemitism."

The Pomegranate has published several articles on Russian and other Eastern European Paganisms. Abstracts are available online.

Kaarina Aitamurto, "Russian Paganism and the Issue of Nationalism: A Case Study of the Circle of Pagan Tradition," 8:2 (2006) 184-210.

Adrian Ivakhiv, "Nature and Ethnicity in East European Paganism: An Environmental Ethic of the Religious Right?" 17:2 (2005) 194-225.

Victor Shnirelman, "Ancestral Wisdom and Ethnic Nationalism: A View from Eastern Europe," 9:1 (2007) 41-61.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Where's the Wall? I Need to Hit It

Forgive the melodramatic headline, but I have been grading tests and research papers for about six hours. At least "the big class" is done, and what lies ahead will be more pleasant reading--essays by better student writers.

So to make up for the lack of blogging, some odds and ends:

• A web site devoted to iconography of deities and demons of the ancient Near East. (Thanks to Caroline Tully.)

• I am please to announce that the Consultation on Contemporary Pagan Studies in the American Academy of Religion has been upgraded to "group" status, i.e., it is now the Contemporary Pagan Studies group, although their site does not reflect the change. The change gives us more program slots and a longer period before the next oversight review.

• Via Circle Sanctuary, a program for sending "Care Packages" to Pagan military personnel overseas.

• Mainly because it has a lot about Gleb Botkin, founder of the Church of Aphrodite and hence one of America's Pagan pioneers, I just read Frances Welch's A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson. (Reviewed in the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian.)

I really didn't learn anything new about the C of A., but there is this tidbit, as close as Welch comes to suggesting how Franziska Schandzkowska [Anna Anderson] (1896-1984) fooled so many people into thinking that she was Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the Russian royal family--including Botkin, who knew the real Anastasia when they were both teenagers. Anastasia's uncle by marriage, Grand Duke Alexander, suggested that Anna was what New Agers call a "walk-in."

A confirmed spiritualist and table-rapper, Alexander claimed that Grand Duchess Anastasia's spirit had returned and incorporated itself into another body. His proclamation revealed the extent to which he was impressed by Anna's memories. 'She knows so much about the intimate life of the Tsar and his family that there is simply no other explanation for it; and of course it wouldn't be the first time that a spirit has returned to earth in a new physical form.'


Labels: , , ,

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Drumming to Save Their Lives

Reuters Photo:  A cultural performance is seen in Pimchakh, 40 km (25 miles) from regional capital Petropavlovsk-KamchatskyOn the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's Far East (across from Alaska), indigenous people are engaged in a work of cultural survival.

"Everyone of my generation speaks the Koryak language, knows the customs, dances, dishes like in the ancient times. But some of our children don't know anything at all," said folk performer Lidia Chechulina, slightly breathless after dancing to the beat of a deer-skin drum and the music of her own voice.

Her songs, sung in a guttural language reminiscent of Chinese, describe the beauty of the tundra, volcanoes and the sea, she explains. She adds that songs, one for each person, accompany Koryaks all their lives and act as a charm.

Soviet Communism, with all its Marxist talk about the dignity of labor, etc., had about the same effect on the Siberians peoples as Christianity did on the American Indians--especially when the Bureau of Indian Affairs used to hire missionaries as Indian agents. But then both Christianity and Marxism are monotheisms, in a sense.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 12, 2007

My continued fascination with Gleb Botkin

I recently found a Wikipedia entry on Gleb Botkin. I still think that he is one of the most fascinating figures in American Paganism, with a life whose arc connected the lost world of the Russian royal family to the contemporary Pagan revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

He is worth a biography of his own, I think.

Labels: , ,