Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Offsite Post: ‘Still Vikings, Still Hobbits’

In a previous essay about American Gnosticism, we drew attention to the differences between the North and the South and how this influenced the relationship between the two.  Since both continue to reside within a common (forced) union, and since both continue to antagonize one another, it is a good idea to explore further why those differences exist and what they portend for the future.

Deep within the Past

In order to rightly understand both Yankees and Dixiefolk, we need to study the origins of both peoples.  Though there has been a large admixture of other kin-groups since their original colonial births, those foundings set the patterns that have continued to the present:  New England being settled by immigrants from East Anglia and Essex in England and the South by immigrants from Wessex and elsewhere in southwest England.  New England’s forefathers of the east coast of England, having received a fair amount of Vikings/Scandinavians into their society over the centuries, developed a different way of looking at the world than the other English peoples round about them.  To properly trace the contrasting worldviews of Essex and Wessex, we need to go to the very beginnings of the recorded history of each kin-group. 

The pre-Christian Scandinavian mind of Essex/East Anglia has left a number of works available for study.  And what they show is an intense preoccupation with man’s interaction and struggle with the gods, and most notably with Ragnarök, the violent cataclysm at the end of time that will destroy the whole cosmos.  For these reasons we may say that the East Anglian worldview is predominantly eschatologically oriented.  The Scandinavian ‘Voluspo’ provides a good glimpse into this mindset.  Here is only a small part of it:

40. The giantess old | in Ironwood sat,
In the east, and bore | the brood of Fenrir;
Among these one | in monster's guise
Was soon to steal | the sun from the sky.

41. There feeds he full | on the flesh of the dead,
And the home of the gods | he reddens with gore;
Dark grows the sun, | and in summer soon
Come mighty storms: | would you know yet more?

42. On a hill there sat, | and smote on his harp,
Eggther the joyous, | the giants' warder;
Above him the cock | in the bird-wood crowed,
Fair and red | did Fjalar stand.

43. Then to the gods | crowed Gollinkambi,
He wakes the heroes | in Othin's hall;
And beneath the earth | does another crow,
The rust-red bird | at the bars of Hel.

44. Now Garm howls loud | before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst, | and the wolf run free;
Much do I know, | and more can see
Of the fate of the gods, | the mighty in fight.

45. Brothers shall fight | and fell each other,
And sisters' sons | shall kinship stain;
Hard is it on earth, | with mighty whoredom;
Axe-time, sword-time, | shields are sundered,
Wind-time, wolf-time, | ere the world falls;
Nor ever shall men | each other spare.

46. Fast move the sons | of Mim, and fate
Is heard in the note | of the Gjallarhorn;
Loud blows Heimdall, | the horn is aloft,
In fear quake all | who on Hel-roads are.

47. Yggdrasil shakes, | and shiver on high
The ancient limbs, | and the giant is loose;
To the head of Mim | does Othin give heed,
But the kinsman of Surt | shall slay him soon.

The combination in the soul of the Essexmen of the belief in angry, warlike, and deceitful gods who ruled mankind rather harshly and the nervous energy created by the foreboding of Ragnarök would go on to form the basic characteristics of the modern New England Yankee, which we will look at in more detail shortly:  rejection of divine authority, war against God, and the desire to control nature and history themselves in order to thwart fate.  This created a rather grim sort of man – cold-hearted, miserly, judgmental, narcissistic.

When one examines the earliest literature of the pre-Chrstian Anglo-Saxons outside the east coast of England, something quite different meets the reader.  Theology and eschatology are mostly muted in favor of more mundane things:  a jilted wife, gold, funny riddles, the hall, and so on.  The divinity in their worldview seems rather distant and impersonal.  The ordinary, the expected, the traditional is thus the dominant theme in the Wessex mindset.  The customary has been elevated to quasi-divine status:  For instance, it is referred as ‘Saint Use’ in the traditional Englishman Maurice Hewlett’s long poem The Song of the Plow (published in 1916). 

Here are two examples of the Wessex soul from early English literature to illustrate all of this.  The first is from the elegiac poem, ‘Wulf’:

Prey, it’s as if my people have been handed prey.
They’ll tear him to pieces if he comes with a troop.

O, we are apart.

Wulf is on one island, I on another,
a fastness that island, a fen-prison.
Fierce men roam there, on that island;
they’ll tear him to pieces if he comes with a troop.

O, we are apart.

 . . .

--The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, trans. Kevin Crossley-Holland, Oxford UP, New York, 2009, p. 59

The second comes from a set of maxims after the coming of Christianity to the English.  However, one will note the calmness and restraint present in the invocations of Christ and God, as set over against the violent, intense interactions with the gods of the Scandinavians, as well as the focus on the earthly, the contentment with the ordinary, of the passage:

Wind in the air is swiftest,
thunder sometimes is loudest, the glories of Christ are great,
fate is strongest, winter is coldest,
spring the frostiest – it is cold the longest –
summer brightest with sun, sky is hottest,
autumn most glorious – brings to men
the fruits of the year which God sends them –
truth is clearest – treasure is dearest,
gold to everyman – and an old man most prudent,
wise with distant years, who has experienced much.

--Mark Atherton, Complete Old English (Anglo-Saxon), McGraw-Hill, 2010, p. 64

From this comes the typical Southern gentleman, whose concern is mainly with what is here below, women, war, family, farm; ready to entertain kin and kith at his table laden with the fruits of the earth, living intimately and happily with the cycle of the seasons - ‘at nature’s pace’ as the saying goes, in no way at enmity with God and his creation.

We have jumped from the beginning to the end, however.  There are still some gaps that need to be filled in to show the continuity of thought of these two peoples.

The Colonial Settlements

For the sake of shortness, we will pass in silence over the upheaval of the Great Schism, the Norman Invasion, and all the chaos that followed upon them. 

The next time period we will examine, then, is that of the colonial era, when the Eastern English settled New England and the Southwestern English settled the South.  It is noteworthy that the character of the two peoples did not change appreciably even over this long and tumultuous era, as we will now see.

The coming of Calvinism to England in the 16th hundredyear completed the Yankee character.  After his forebears absorbed John Calvin’s teaching of the wrathful Father-God and double predestination, his career as self-ordained savior and re-creator of the world was set.  But the traditional ways inherited by the Southern gentlemen would be defended and retained by the high-church Anglican (and at times Roman Catholic) establishment.  A good representative of this latter is the Anglican priest Richard Hooker (1554-1600), who was born in Devon County (which lies in southwestern England).  It is his disputations with the Yankees’ immediate predecessors, the Puritans, that developed into his book Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.  And it is there, in that book, where the continuity of both Northern and Southern types may be clearly seen.

The Puritan he describes in all his self-righteous, narrow-minded delusion:

The Book of God they notwithstanding for the most part so admired, that other disputation against their opinions than only by allegation of Scripture they would not hear; besides it they thought no other writings in the world should be studied; insomuch as one of their great prophets exhorting them to cast away all respects unto human writings, so far to his motion they condescended, that as many as had any books save the Holy Bible in their custody, they brought and set them publicly on fire. When they and their Bibles were alone together, what strange fantastical opinion soever at any time entered into their heads, their use was to think the Spirit taught it them. Their phrensies concerning our Saviour’s incarnation, the state of souls departed, and such-like, are things needless to be rehearsed. And forasmuch as they were of the same suit with those of whom the apostle speaketh, saying, “They are still learning, but never attain to the knowledge of truth,” it was no marvel to see them every day broach some new thing, not heard of before. Which restless levity they did interpret to be their growing to spiritual perfection, and a proceeding from faith to faith. The differences amongst them grew by this mean in a manner infinite, so that scarcely was there found any one of them, the forge of whose brain was not possessed with some special mystery.  . . .  Their own ministers they highly magnified as men whose vocation was from God; the rest their manner was to term disdainfully Scribes and Pharisees, to account their calling an human creature, and to detain the people as much as might be from hearing them (Preface, ch. viii, 7, https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/hooker-the-works-of-richard-hooker-vol-1).

Nonetheless, he does not leave the reader without a description of the traditional Englishman’s view of the orderly world held together by various goodly laws to which all should submit.  And to do this, he uses a subject that is humorously altogether fitting for the homely English/Southern man, food.  Part of the passage reads,

For the better inuring therefore of men’s minds with the true distinction of laws, and of their several force according to the different kind and quality of our actions, it shall not peradventure be amiss to shew in some one example how they all take place. To seek no further, let but that be considered, than which there is not any thing more familiar unto us, our food.

What things are food and what are not we judge naturally by sense; neither need we any other law to be our director in that behalf than the selfsame which is common unto us with beasts.

But when we come to consider of food, as of a benefit which God of his bounteous goodness hath provided for all things living; the law of Reason doth here require the duty of thankfulness at our hands, towards him at whose hands we have it. And lest appetite in the use of food should lead us beyond that which is meet, we owe in this case obedience to that law of Reason, which teacheth mediocrity in meats and drinks. The same things divine law teacheth also, as at large we have shewed it doth all parts of moral duty, whereunto we all of necessity stand bound, in regard of the life to come.

But of certain kinds of food the Jews sometime had, and we ourselves likewise have, a mystical, religious, and supernatural use, they of their paschal lamb and oblations, we of our bread and wine in the Eucharist; which use none but divine law could institute.

Now as we live in civil society, the state of the commonwealth wherein we live both may and doth require certain laws concerning food; which laws, saving only that we are members of the commonwealth where they are of force, we should not need to respect as rules of action, whereas now in their place and kind they must be respected and obeyed (Book I, ch. xvi, 7, https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/hooker-the-works-of-richard-hooker-vol-1).

Once Puritan and Anglican settled their respective territories in Massachusetts (1620) and Virginia (1607), the character types of each section crystalized quickly.  One of the South’s ablest defenders, Richard Weaver, did an excellent job of contrasting the beliefs and ways of the two peoples in his essay exploring the diaries of William Byrd II of Westover, Virginia (1674-1744), and Cotton Mather of Boston, Massachusetts (1663-1728), entitled ‘Two Diarists’ (In Defense of Tradition, ed. Ted Smith III, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, Ind., 2000).

Prof Weaver details the traits of New England by way of Mather.  There is severe narcissism, the belief that God has great plans for them (pgs. 723-4).  Because of this chosenness, they felt they were permitted to press others into the mold of their way of life (p. 727).  Relations with other people are marked by ‘anxiety, fear, and self-accusation, along with the imputation of the spirit of lying to others’ (p. 730).  There is also ‘the almost total indifference to nature’ (p. 730).  ‘The great sensible world loses its office of mediation, . . . nature was not regularly suggestive of God; . . . the way is open for the prying, experimenting, and controlling which come to their fruition in modern science’ (pgs. 731-2).  Summing up, Prof Weaver gives the New England worldview the name of demonism:  ‘Demonism is definable as that habit of mind which judges everything and apperceives nothing.  . . .  The demon has one view of the world, and according to that he must make his will prevail’ (pgs. 732-3).

It is otherwise with William Byrd and the South.  . . .


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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