Reenacting superstitions

Historic questions, thoughts and other interesting stuff

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behanner
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Post by behanner »

Here is the problem, the remnants of practices don't actually make the people not Christians. A much better place to study this phenomenon is in Mexico because there have been fewer centuries to get rid of those practices and there is much less interest in reviving old practices for their own sake which there has been in Europe for over a century.

Different periods are going to have different mixtures of orthodoxy mixed with popular belief. Both are important and require a lot of research, which will vary from period to period.

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Post by Neibelungen »

Is that Wulstan's Cannons of Edgar ? Because I thought that was primairy a treatise on penance and the laxity of the clergy in York and Worcester.

I would have thought most late anglo-saxon texts would be fairly scaithing of pagan practises and stamping them out simply because of the prevelance of the vikings in the middle and north of England. Since they were converted only at the very end of the 10th C there's bound to be quite a lot of their older faith still about.

Personally I've always found Owen Davies tends to leap from one argument to the next without looking at alternatives and then refering back to his arguments as if they were proved. You find an awfull lot of that same methodology in a lot of 'pseudo-fact' books that try to be factual. The Holy Blood ones are the worst for it.

I read a lovely book on Arthur that was citing Geofry on Monmouth as a wonderfull souce for his conjecture.. Convincing till you realise Geofry was writing some 600 or more years after his supposed authority.

I'm afraid I'm pretty much sceptical much of what John and Caitlin Mathews write. I wouldn't exactly describe theire research as by any means conclusive or particularly rigerous. They do like to sellect their evidence and avoid anything that doesn't quite fit in.
And to be francly honest, their Hallowquest ideas strike me as being a modern day version of a lot of the late victorian revivalism in a better dressing.

The survival of texts doesn't really give much evidence that there was a continuity of that religion. We have a lot of pieces of early greek and roman texts, Ovid, Orpheus or Homer, or the germanic sagas, but very little to show that there's any traditions remaining from them either. you have to wonder why the Mithras and Issus cults don't seem to have any surviving tradition given how popular they were.

I certainly won't deny that christianity coloured it's ideas and themes to fit into existing cultural patterns. As for the significance of church sites next to early pagan sites. That's probably inevitable. If you drive the local clergy out your always going to build on there property as it's effectively free land. That it has a tradition all the better because people are familiar with congregating there. There a hundreds of similar examples in the middle east from across all periods of one religion taking over the site of another. Theres a lovely example of one in Irag with a zigurate at the base, a greek cult temple above that with Sassanid ruins, followed by a christian chirch and lastly a Mosque.

My biggest problem is that there's a significant gap in these traditions following the decline of religious persecution from the end of the 18th C. That may perhaps have more to do with the untrustworthy nature of the leading figures who tried to 'reinvent' these cults afterwards. MaGreggor-Mathers, Eliphas Levi, Blavatsky etc don't do much a favour and Gardinerer and Alexander don't exactly shine as leading examples from later dates either.

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Post by gregory23b »

Also sympathetic magic is used across the xtian world to greater and lesser degrees. In some Greek Orthodox churches worshippers will take small models of body parts to church so that they hope them to be cured.

Anyone who has had any contact with rural catholic people in say Europe will see a fairly mixed bag of religious practices, some that are not xtian by any means.

On top of that much iconography contains elements from much earlier or well established local customs. Even simple things like the Virgin's robe being mainly red in Eastern orthodox (russian) rather than Blue in western, red being an important colour of fortune across the east right through to Asia.

Late medieval interpretations of the Madonna as Queen of heaven for some reason show her standing on a crescent moon and also with her flanked by the sun and moon.

Religions absorb and get mutated, there is no one singular unchanged xtian practice, nor would I imagine was there for 'pagan' religions.

Also to consider are some societies where religion was changed at the behest of tribal leaders, who seemed to have enough power to dictate religious practice.
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Post by Alan_F »

ViscontesseD'Asbeau wrote:As I said, Canons of Wulfstan (11thC) are pretty instructive as to ongoing pagan practices in the xian Anglo Saxon period. Somewhere I have the relevant passage & translation. Clearly, he wouldn't be legislating to wipe the thing out if it had gone centuries before. :D
Don't place bets on that: As Neibelungen says, it would be scathing because it was opposing the practices of the invading vikings rather than anything else.
Dr. Owen Davies' book on cunning folk is a possible resource for you.

Cunning-folk: Popular Magic in English History.

For further info (not airy fairy stuff but a long, hard, rigorous look) try any of the books by Professor Ron Hutton, esp. Stations of the Sun, and Triumph of the Moon.
Ron Hutton's attempts at writing about anything outside of the War of the Three Kingdoms shows lousy research backed up with little or no substance: Greater minds than I have already dealt with this and at some length.

.

As for :
And as to it being a religion that was foisted on them, I'd love to see evidence of this, seeing as how Scotland was Christian from the 6th century onwards. Never seen anything in Scottish history to say that they were secretly pagan or continuing any pagan practices after the 6th century
Tell that to some Orcadians I know - sorry to shatter your illusions but many are Norsies to this day and are following longheld family traditions from Scotland and the Orkneys.

:lol: :lol:
Hold the front page! People in the Orkneys are descended from the Norse! Oh wait a minute, I've known that since I was about 12. How it could shatter my illusions is beyond me as I know full well that by the time the Orkneys became part of Scotland it was already an established Christian community in its own right. Or are you seriously trying to say that it was still a pagan community? However, they see themselves as Orcadians of Norse descent rather than anything else, sorry to shatter your illusions. And as to the 'traditions' - any Orcadian will tell you that they don't stretch back beyond the Victorians.

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

The Mary cult was largely to do with making xianity familiar and accessible to pagans, maintaining some pretence of a female presence in its religion, so making it palatable to folk who would not have got the concept of a men only god. There are very many historians and anthropologists down the ages who have made that observation - many of them, no doubt, xians themselves.
If it was to make it familiar to pagans in this country, why wait until the 12th century?
Often churches were built bang on, or very close to pagan holy sites (witness the biggest monolith in England, in East Yorks, which is literally yards from the back wall of a church). So the 'new' religion could make sure folk weren't continuing to practice the old one (or so I read in the little monograph published by a former vicar of the parish). I also come from a village in the North of England where a 10thC church was built within yards of a much more ancient sacred spring. Interestingly, the spring is regarded as a place of some 'power' or interest, to this day by the community. The church? Empty.
The church is empty - erm, yes? The Churches round here are full. Care to explain that?

And Churches were put on where another religious building had been placed - so what? Practically every religion that becomes predominant does that, why should Christianity be any different? But to say that this means that they were still practicing the pagan religion is arrant nonsense.
Coincidentally, the Lay Person's Catechism, by the way, was issued from the very village where my own ancestors have come from, for centuries. (I only knew that tonight when I Wikipedia'd it). Speak it quietly, but the 'old religion' has always continued apace - right in that very place. Yards from that very building! :D And that's a hard fact you won;t find in
I wouldn't rely on Wikipedia as a source, no academic body that I can think of would. And I have yet to see any evidence of any 'Old Religion' continuing down throughout the centuries.
any book...

One other useful resource for you may be some of the works of John Matthews. He's rather prolific, but his Druid Source Book and Bardic Source Book gather together, in translation, original sources.
I'll stick with actual historians thanks. Like Hutton, Penman or Oram, none of whom mention any of this. Oh wait, they don't axes to grind.
Druidry continued well into the 'xian' period in Ireland, and that is well documented, although it segued into xianity, over time. The survival of the Irish Triads and other literatures, like the Welsh Mabinogion, give us some faint echoes of a culture that was not xian.
And?
As someone who loves Old English with a passion, I'm often curious why the xian monks spent so much time transcribing pagan material from a much earlier period, such as Beowulf (which can not be dated at all, but certainly comes from a much earlier period than the MS). And many others, some of which are superficially prefaced or concluded with clearly tacked-on xian platitudes, but the whole gist and spirit of the central parts, being undeniably pagan. We know this stuff was memorised, thousands of lines at a time and for generations before it was written down (we can tell from various archaic forms, how the language mutates over time, &c). Some of it seems to have survived over a couple of hundred years, pretty well intact, before committed to vellum. Why? By whom? Why would these stories still hold power for an xianised audience? We don't know. But the fact they did, is quite suggestive.
Who says that they held power? The monks, from what I have seen, were good at recording life and all things with it.

There are many surviving fragments of our own lost culture and references to these are extremely well documented.

In fact, the Kingdom of Elmet, from whence the Catechism was issued, was one of the last English centres of British (as opposed to Anglo Saxon) culture, as attested by Bonhed Gwyr y Gogledd, a document surviving in one Welsh MS, describing the '13 Kingdoms of the North'.

Simple books on folklore or folksongs also give some pointers. 'Fairy' stories survive into the present, as do many things regarded as 'superstition'. And again, that has been very well covered by academics ever since the mid 19thC in Germany and later, England, in particular. You want hard facts - read these sources and a fraction of the things they reference and you'd have more hard facts than you want to cope with!
You use 19th century 'historians' and you claim that you have hard facts? I've yet to hear of a 19th century who isn't trying to either get on board the imperial bandwagon or write something that doesn't even bear scrutiny by modern standards.
Maybe you should try visiting some of the lesser known stone circles, or a sacred place like Madron Well some time - that's covered in offerings, to show you paganism is live and kicking now not because it was resurrected from fragments (a 70s myth, that one) but, in fact - never entirely was stamped out.
As evidenced by what? Let's face it, you have absolutely no credible evidence to back up what you say. The Clootie well is covered in 'offerings', but the people who left them didn't think it was a pagan religious thing, more as a memoriam to those they had lost. And the modern version of paganism has absolutely nothing to do with the original, I can assure you of that.

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
Wulfstan's a good place to start for concrete evidence of paganism in the supposed xian period.
Not supposed, real. And as to Wulfstan:
Because I thought that was primairy a treatise on penance and the laxity of the clergy in York and Worcester.
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Post by Lord High Everything Esle »

Neibelungen wrote:snip
The survival of texts doesn't really give much evidence that there was a continuity of that religion. We have a lot of pieces of early greek and roman texts, Ovid, Orpheus or Homer, or the germanic sagas, but very little to show that there's any traditions remaining from them either. you have to wonder why the Mithras and Issus cults don't seem to have any surviving tradition given how popular they were.

snip.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/pda/A8976324?s_id=4

seems to be alive and well and run by a fella called the Pope (il Papa, the Father).
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Post by Maerwynn »

Sorry this is a bit list-y!

On Wulfstan:
Wulfstan wrote the Canons of Edgar either under a king threatened with invasion by Danes (until 1014) or for a Danish conqueror, only newly Christian. The Danish threat had echoes of the pagan Viking invasions, 200 years earlier, which entailed the collapse of most English kingdoms and much warfare, destruction of property, and other unpleasantnesses. It would be surprising if this did not prompt senior churchmen to write of the dangers of lapsing from sanctioned Christian practice.

He was also writing around the turn of the first Millennium, a period of considerable angst for Christians: the arrival of the Antichrist was expected soon, and the date of his arrival much debated. Wulfstan’s party line was that only by turning from their sins (and especially by turning towards the practices of the Benedictine reform) could virtuous people hope to be saved.

I agree that the Canons of Edgar are evidence for some sorts of non-Rome-sanctioned religious practices in England at the time (among clergy and laity). Despite Wulfstan’s vehemence, I don’t think this is evidence that these practices were coherent, widespread or growing. I also doubt that his knowledge of pagan cults at the time was very accurate.

Good books:
I’d recommend The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society by John Blair, for solid evidence, and Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic by Bill Griffiths, for a good read and lots of tidbits of information, though the emphasis is sometimes suspect.

On overlaid religious sites:
The early pagan English did this too! Many early pagan cemeteries lie next to or on top of prehistoric barrows. Pagan viking invaders also demonstrate this practice, themselves adopting Christian sites: see the mass grave of 200+ corpses around a the burial of a high status male on the site of a Christian chapel at Repton (see Viking Age England by Julian D. Richards).

Adopting already existing cult sites was therefore not an exclusively Christian phenomenon. This need not necessarily be interpreted as the new faith crushing the old one under its boots. If a community adopted a new faith, it would be natural for them to convert existing cult sites, already invested with power in their minds, to the honour of the new god. Bede has an account of Rædwald of East Anglia keeping two altars in his temple, one to Christ and one to the old gods (Book II, Chapter XV: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/bede-book2.html). It was clearly not obvious to him that the White Christ might be offended by this…


On the Mary cult:
The Mary cult was largely to do with making xianity familiar and accessible to pagans, maintaining some pretence of a female presence in its religion, so making it palatable to folk who would not have got the concept of a men only god.
That’s a retrospective view and an over-simplification. You can’t argue that the bishops of the early Chrstian church thought “I know, we’ll make a bit of a fuss of Mary and then all these matrilineal weirdos won’t feel so excluded” unless you also argue that all the Mary cult through the years is an elaborate sham. The ex-pagans now inside the Church changed it, in addition to being themselves changed by it.


On monks’ copying Beowulf:
There’s an easy answer to why monks re-copied Beowulf: because it’s great art. They were quite capable of appreciating this.

It’s also not a wholly pagan poem, but one apparently written by a poet in an early generation of Christianity in the British Isles, who looked back to a heroic time through Christian eyes. It is neither wholly pagan in outlook nor wholly Christian (at least by later standards). There are however some academics who argue that it was written as late as the early 11th century.

There is a flavour here of a very modern “all Pagans were happy benign and all Christians were dour kill-joys” view of history, as seen in (for example) Bernard Cornwell’s awful King Alfred/Uhtred novels. Puritanism is a much later development! Beware of seeing Benedictine reformers (or Christian religious in general) in the same light: for all that they preach, these were the same people who commissioned lavishly illustrated manuscripts; who wore copes with so much gold embroidery that it could be later unpicked, melted down and used to buy estates; and who recopied the Exeter book including the dirty riddles. I think they were quite capable of appreciating material that wasn't quite canon if it was good enough.

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Post by ViscontesseD'Asbeau »

Thanks Maerwynn

The Bill Griffiths one is one of my all time favourites, and very sound. i forgot all about it! Highly recommend it, as a solid read.

He references some articles written by a former teacher of mine, Peter Kitson, who I think has done some stuff on AS magic, also by the look of it, although that's since I was taught by him. I know he was a man of immense scholarship when I knew him, so would trust anything he wrote, too.

Snorri's Edda is also a good resource I forgot, although collated in the later period and by an xian. Edition I believe by another of my former teachers, Dr Anthony Faulkes who is also sound as a pound.

I don't see all xians as killjoys by the way, it's just having read oceans of Old and Middle English, am aware of the often deadly xian prose/poetry, as opposed to more lively and interesting secular stuff. That's a personal opinion, of course. Have also read some very mucky and lively stuff about what really went on behind closed doors in religious establishments (makes Caligula look like a maiden aunt). :lol: I don't think medieval xians were at all boring - the nuns were constantly 'in an interesting condition' apparently and the monks made Freddie Mercury look tame and the average Tory politician look non corrupt... In fact, if I could be anything in medieval England I'd definitely have been a monk/nun as they seem to have had such a great life - food, education and plenty of fun, if you could stand the bizarre hours they kept. Only someone who hasn't read beyond secondary sources would believe they were dour.

Often read things that aren't in translation therefore not available to historians, as they tend to be only able to read the later 14thC stuff and on. (And that's 'read' in the past tense as I don't tend to read any Middle English these days, cept for the very rare foray, so I'm not up for translating pious prose)!

Having suffered a year of Piers Plowman, line by line, I'd have to be soulless to remain charitable about xianity and its effect on literature, sorry to say. Kind of in the same way Oscar Wilde said *One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing* am afraid I've suffered so many thousands of lines of PP, Cleaness, Ancrene Wisse, et al to have developed a similar scepticism about their er.. merits. Certainly they're not entirely a laugh a minute (or even a laugh a century). :wink:

There's lots of info about the poss dates of Beowulf - I think scholarship is tending towards an earlier, rather than a later date, now, for various reasons. The survivals from an earlier period are entirely random and if it wasn't for the xians dutifully writing them up, we'd have nothing from AS, I'm sure, so we have every reason to be grateful to them for it, whatever their motives. :D
Last edited by ViscontesseD'Asbeau on Mon Jan 08, 2007 3:59 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Post by Neibelungen »

Mithraism is one of those chicken and egg situations from history.

Most of what's written is taken from Cumont, who was writting at the start of this century. On a close read of him, much of his evidence is conjecture and speculation, if not outright imaginative fabrication.

The link between Mithras and persian Zoroastrianism is tenious as best, as the Persian Mithra has very little in common with Mithraism other than a few common symbologies. And these are prevalent in many other cults and religions too. Interestingly the slayer of the Bull in Zoroastrian myths is actually considered an evil figure. what we do know is that it originates somewhere in the eastern Annotilian region and then travels through Greece before establishing itself within Roman society.

We know so little of Mithraism other than what can be speculative interpretation from carving and the few critical accounts from Christian sources and some Roman authorities who appear to be either quite speculative or critical of the emperors.

That there are similarieties isn't questioned, what is questionable is the attribution of them and oftem many of the differences are ignored.

Mithraism was a male only cult and seems to have been quite limited onto who it brought into it's intiations.

Our earliest dated evidence is about 95AD for Mithraism, some 60 years after Christianity appears.. It's equaly possible they borrowed from Christian sources.

Mithraic images don't show anything related to shepards and the images of magi are speculative at best. They show two companions in most cases, but it unclear what these other other than companions.

Mithras is born from a rock, rather than a virgin birth. Mithras is also born fully formed eqipped with his hat and dagger. It's only the borrowing from a speculative Zoroastrian link that gives a virgin birth.

Terms like Eucharist, father, Messiah are more about translation problems of greek than anything specific. . Savior was used, but it's a common term in all mystery cults.

The 25th Dec link was speculation as many other cults had winter festivals on that date. Saturnalia for example. The nativity wasn't an important date for christianity untill at least 250AD and is in itself rather periferal to christian themes. It gains t's rout from the Sol Invictus cult, but interestingly the most important date in Sol Invictus was later in the year. in October.

That there is some astrological link is very probably. however Mithraism's relation to this is problematic. The knowledge of progression was widely known through Greek astronomy and philosophy. Mithraism, while showing some symbology, shows little relation or significance to any further progression into Aries, or any symbism related to it.

Many of the philosophical cults of that period, epucurian, platonism etc have themes of a world ending in flames, and Mithraism is no exception. It has some solar link and a variant reading of the symbolism can be argued that it is about guiding the person through this ordeal into the next world or age, with or without death.

Mithras is never slain by the bull to accend to the sun, but returns arterwards. It's not quite the same idea as Jesus dieing for salvation through sacrifice and redemption, or the tenets of resurection. Mithras is never slain

I hope I havn't gone on too far, but it's simply that our understanding of Mithraism is too poor to offer anything concrete and most identification is based on very early speculative research that hasn't been questioned properly.

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Post by ViscontesseD'Asbeau »

Neib I saw a TV programme that explored the links between Mithraism & xianity.

The gist of it was, that xianity was one way or another, a bit of a by-product of Mithraism in the sense that it was a deeply fashionable religion, but also a highly exclusive one, for higher class army officers. When this new Middle Eastern cult came along, it appealed because it had some of the superficial aspects of Mithraism - but wasn't fussy who came along (bums on seats). Xianity took off because the wives of influential romans got into it. So women, the poor, anyone could feel part of this otherwise not dissimilar cult. I dunno if that's true but it made sense.

Broadly, looking at it from an anthropoligcal standpoint, there are obvious similarities, whether intentional or no. Most cultures have had a sun god cult and/or death cult - and Mithraism and xianity are both of those - at some time and it seems that xianity took over this role from Mithraism (and no doubt others). There are some native American belief systems that are also remarkably close to what we know of Mithras - I think Catling or someone outlines the practices of the Pawnee, at some point and it was pointed out by more than one 19thC scholar the resemblence (sun god, patriarchal religion in a generally matriarchal universe, blood and martyrdom, sacrifice, etc etc). So I think both xianity and Mithraism are expressions of that old sun god impulse, and it's immaterial whether one is consciously based on t'other or not - both are spontaneous expressions of different cultures, one European, one not. But similar can be found the world over. Interestingly, unlike the Mithras followers and xians, the Pawnee's society politically was a matriarchy - unlike many other nations that had more matriarchal belief structures. Dunno what that was about.

Xianity took over because of its sheer inclusiveness. Suddenly these disempowered Victoria Beckhams could also have a sun god. And, just as in the 21stC, what the rich do today the poorer copy tomorrow.... This programme said it spread because of society's aspirants, in other words. But it had superficial similarities to 'the real thing', the Mithras cult, which made its followers feel 'special' without having to fulfil any stringent requirements. To put it crudely (and I always try to ) the difference between a Prada handbag and summat off a market stall - probably essentially not entirely dissimilar. But one is accessible to all. :wink:

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Post by Neibelungen »

Isn't that always the way with TV 'documentary' type programs.

Grossly oversimplifying, context independent parallels and sloppy suppositions based on dubious evidence.

I saw a similar thing on the Gospel of Judas recently. Amusing, entertaining and pretty dire. Can't wait to see what Jeffry Archer's book will make of it too.

They do better with debunking stuuf though.. most of the Dan Brown rubbish has been shown as exactly that

I always find it interesting that Roman mithraism has far more in common with egypt/syriac and Iranian Gnosticism than earlt christianity, but they never want to draw those similarities out. Maybe because it's hard to draw a parallel when one is extremely critical of the other.

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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

It's cos it wouldn't offer a revelation that suggests the Pope is actually a pagan sun worshiper.
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Post by StaffordCleggy »

HE ISN'T!!!

Oh, well then, anybody want to buy a slightly (very slightly) used rosary? :lol:

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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

if handled by your good self, sire than i would handsomely pay for such a relic.
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Post by Most Holy »

They do better with debunking stuuf though.. most of the Dan Brown rubbish has been shown as exactly that

What?... It fiction, it was written as fiction and was sold, and read (I assume) as fiction. How can you debunk fiction? You will be telling us that the Battle of Helms Deep did not happen next :roll:

Sorry, had to say that
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Post by Alan_F »

Most Holy wrote:
They do better with debunking stuuf though.. most of the Dan Brown rubbish has been shown as exactly that

What?... It fiction, it was written as fiction and was sold, and read (I assume) as fiction. How can you debunk fiction? You will be telling us that the Battle of Helms Deep did not happen next :roll:

Sorry, had to say that
The people who wrote Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, upon which The Da Vinci Code is based, maintain that it's true. The fact that their 'work' has been debunked by people who have actually studied the stuff they try to link together is why it's safe to say that the Dan Brown stuff has been debunked.
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Post by Neibelungen »

But don't you know, He didn't copy a word of it. It's all Dan's invention.

Guess somebody had a damd good lawyer that day !!

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Post by Alan_F »

Neibelungen wrote:But don't you know, He didn't copy a word of it. It's all Dan's invention.

Guess somebody had a damd good lawyer that day !!
I like the bit in the trial when the authors of Holy Blood... went from claiming that it's all 100% fact to claiming that it's only a theory.... :lol: Strange that for years beforehand they'd always said the reverse!

Did you follow the trial much yourself?
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Post by ViscontesseD'Asbeau »

Most Holy wrote:
... You will be telling us that the Battle of Helms Deep did not happen next :roll:

Sorry, had to say that
Helm's Deep definitely happened. I saw the film. :D

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Post by kael »

guthrie wrote:Prymers and suchlike- I'd forgotten about them. Perhaps a job for an artist or calligrapher would be to produce a few of them, to be left around appropriate living history encampments?

I do know that one or two people are or have invested in tryptichs. Which would obviously be religious and a rich household would likely have had one.
Not a bad idea, someone in our group does some basic caligraphy, will have to reccomend researching into that... /random

On/off topic...

I agree that religion is a very difficult subject, especially amongst re-enactors from a mixed denomination of faiths. But, in a roleplayng and accuracy sense, and noting the importance of faith (especially in the early period), i think it is essential that we do portray the various religious orders of our period. It appears that religion has become an uncomfortable subject, which is bizzare in a society where people learn about each others faiths from an early age, so why not from a historical perspective?

Thankfully, the people who do portray clergy or worshippers from a particular faith, that i have seen so far, have done it well - without many of the stereotypes associated with religion(s). I would hope an audience would recognise that portraying a religion at an event is not an actual religious mass/gathering, and enjoy it for its value in properly displaying history.

edit: yarg, it didnt direct me to the last page as i asked it to, and i'm commenting on a post from a previous page...

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