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, June 18, 2016

The Old Ways

 The original Saxon Freemen were not Christians.  I'm reluctant to color them with words they didn't use for themselves - like pagan or heathen.  As with many un-centralized peoples, 'religion' wasn't a clear and separate category for them, apart from everyday life.   Their lack of centralization came to bear here also - they apparently had no priesthood to control them.

  A curiosity: if you read anything about pre-Christian Germanic religion, you’ll find such a long list of deities that it's hard to keep track of them all.  Did they really make offerings to these characters? One might conclude that they were superstitious, simple-minded, fatalistic, and not given to much critical thought; we have nothing to learn from them.

  One problem, though.  It doesn't make sense.  The language descended from these barbarians - thought and spoken into existence by minds no less able than our own - has been sufficient for some of the most complex and subtle philosophies the West has produced.  Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Wittgenstein; these and many others, a sizable chunk of European intellectual history, who somehow managed to express their ideas in a tongue spawned by superstitious knuckle-draggers, a language even lacking the wholesale borrowings from Romance languages that English has endured.  Strange...

   In approaching the Freemen's spirituality, my thought was to not drag out ancient deities; we can’t know exactly how they were regarded in their time.  Rather, given the knowledge that trees and pillars played a central, customary role, I followed Mircea Eliade’s notion of the human need to experience hierophany, the manifestation of the sacred, and imagined a priest-less way of arriving there.

  There are neopagan movements out there, of various affinities.  I'm not a member.  And while it's none of my business what people do with themselves, I can't help but notice, after a cursory glance, something odd: a proliferation of rules and hierarchies in these groups.  Not customs that have grown up organically over time, but dogma by the decree of some self-anointed seer (inspired though they may be by a few details recorded by the Romans, along with a heaping dose of romanticism).  In attempting to rebuild something destroyed, they instead ape the destroyers.