The Saxon Freemen

In the year 772 Charlemagne invaded the lands of the Saxons. It would take him more than thirty years to complete the subjugation, years that included forced conversions to Christianity - the alternative being execution - and the slaughter of 4,500 Saxon prisoners at Verden; and yet, come the year 841, the Saxons rose up one last time in an attempt to restore their old ways. Though quickly put down, it is remarkable that rebellion still dwelt in their hearts, and that old traditions had abided - underground - in the interim. A powerful love of something was passed along in their households. But what?

Certainly, these forgotten people are no less deserving of respect than the many indigenous cultures that now claim preservation as a human right. The Last of the Freemen is a tale of their descendants, living in the United States in the not-too-distant future. This allows me to explore the beliefs and qualities that made them so difficult to conquer, and to do so in a manner relevant to the modern world. In articles that follow, I will explore some themes of the novel - and more broadly, consider the cultural drivers of freedom - for anyone who finds these things of interest.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


  In The Last of the Freemen I wrote of traditional plants that were brought from the Old World to the New as part of a cultural adaptation - whereby a portion of one’s food could be grown with little effort, while also avoiding attention from the authorities (who inevitably find a way to tax whatever they lay their eyes on).  These are mostly perennials - coming back year after year - and, under the right circumstances, will grow with little or no maintenance.
   This isn't much of a stretch from what has actually taken place; as pointed out by James C. Scott in The Art of Not Being Governed, the impetus for agrarian monocultures come from on high.  Decentralized peoples have usually grown a wide variety of crops.  Indeed, an impressive array of plants was utilized by Europeans in the past.  The medieval diet - in various times and places - included many foods now quite forgotten (skirret, good King Henry, burnet, bellflower), or considered weeds now (dandelion, pilewort, gill-over-the-ground, mallow, purslane, nettles, heal-all, goutweed).
   In the story I limit the plants to those used traditionally in Northern and Central Europe.  The list could easily be enlarged by including American and Asian perennials, and of course fruiting trees, shrubs, and vines - all depending on how much available space you have.  For those interested in this sort of thing, the ground is covered well by permaculturists; two places I recommend for useful information - without the quasi-religiousness sometimes found in folks who carry this label - are here and here.
   I can hear skeptics saying, good luck surviving on that stuff for long.  But I don't make that claim, and I don't pretend anyone can live on these plants alone; the caloric intake wouldn’t be sufficient.  They do, however, provide some latitude.  Dropping out entirely is not feasible for most, or even desired.  But you can increase your margins.  To my way of thinking, that increases your freedom, too.