Monday, December 14, 2009

Widukind and the Bielski Brothers

Gods, I love the Saxons. They put the Bad in Pagan Bad-Ass. They fought Charlemagne's father, Pepin, who struggled throughout his reign just to protect his own territories, never able to decisively defeat the Saxons on their own turf, beyond the Frankish frontier. And after Pepin was dead, the Saxons fought on. In 772, Charlemagne managed to penetrate deep into Saxon territory and destroy their most holy sanctuary, which contained "Irminsul", a sacred monument whose appearance, construction, and religious meaning is still almost a complete mystery. But the Saxons fought on.  In a single day in 782 Charlemagne slaughtered 4,500 unarmed, defeated Saxon warriors who had surrendered and laid down their weapons. But the Saxons fought on.

Eventually the leader of the Saxons, Widukind, surrendered and accepted baptism in 785. Charlemagne was as brutal in victory as he had been in war, and he forcibly imposed Christianity on his conquered Saxon subjects, knowing that this was absolutely necessary in order to break the will and spirit of this stubbornly Pagan people. The performance of any Pagan rituals, including funerals, was made punishable by death. Any Saxon who refused to be baptized was to be put to death.

But in 793 the Saxons launched yet another uprising. This time Charlemagne realized he could not simply crush the revolt, so he also bought off the Saxon upper nobility, that is, after killing all those who couldn't be bought off. Even after that, sporadic fighting continued until at least 804.

But even that wasn't the end of things. In 841, a full century after Pepin had risen to be "Mayor of the Palace and Duke of the Franks",  the Pagan Saxons rose up in revolt once again, this time taking on both the Franks and their own sell-out nobility! This was the celebrated Stellinga uprising. The wily Saxons had seen their chance when infighting among the Carolingian royal family escalated into an all-out civil war.

Eventually the Stellinga uprising was also drowned in Saxon blood. Was it all for nothing? No.

I admire the Saxons for the same reason that I (and many others!) admire the Bielski Brothers, Quanah Parker, Nat Turner, Tupac Amaru, and John Brown. They fought. It's as simple as that. They fought.

There are those who would have us believe that Christianization has been a smooth, peaceful process. That meek Christian missionaries went humbly among the barbarous Pagans to convert them through peaceful persuasion and the excellence of their superior Christian way of life. But that is not how 1/3 the human race became Christian.

The Roman empire was not converted peacefully, but by imperial coercion and mob violence. The "barbarian" peoples of Europe were not converted peacefully, but by the sword and the spear. The indios of the western hemisphere were not converted peacefully, but by conquest and genocide. Half the population of Africa was not converted peacefully, but by enslavement and colonization (most of the other half already having been converted by the sword of Islam). But at each step in this process there have been those who fought back. And that is a damned good thing.

More than anything else, it is the spirit of resistance to coercive Christianization that binds modern Pagans to other peoples who have also struggled to retain their ancient religious traditions. And it is that spirit of resistance that binds modern Pagans to our ancient Pagan ancestors. It is the heart and soul of what makes Paganism the Old Religion.


Anonymous said...

Rather than referring to the beliefs of the Saxons as simply "Paganism", I think it's far more appropriate to refer to it as what it was, specifically *Germanic* Paganism.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Anonymous: you really don't get what this post is about. Not even a little.

Anonymous said...

Hm. Why are you hostile to the term "Germanic"? I've noticed in previous posts you've talked a lot about different ancient "ethnicities", while in the same post mentioning various -Germanic- groups without pointing out their shared Germanic culture. These groups all held, to varying degrees, a pan-Germanic belief system that included, for example, who we now know of as Odin and Frigg. Linguistically and religiously, the Franks, Lombards, Goths, Saxons, Angles, and so forth, were all a part of the same cultural sphere - they were all once, yes, specifically -Germanic- Pagans.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

I am not at all hostile to the term "Germanic". And you are of course correct concerning the great similarities that exist among the religious beliefs and practices of different Germanic peoples.

For that matter, I myself can claim Germanic descent, and am proud to do so.

But whether we call the Saxons Pagans, Germanic-Pagans, Saxon-Pagans (which is even more "accurate" than Germanic Pagan), Heathens, followers of indigenous European religiosity (sub-species Germanicus), etc, are choices that reflect, among other things, what is being emphasized at the time.

What I want to emphasize here is the spiritual kinship of all those throughout the last 17 centuries of human history who have resisted the coercive process of Christianization, and who have stubbornly persisted in worshiping their old Gods and following their old ways, while putting up a fight against all those who would deprive them of the Gods given freedom to do so.

Therefore I choose here to refer to the Saxons as Pagans. This makes them no less German. All modern Pagans, regardless of what names their Gods go by, or what their last names are, or what color their skin is, should admire the Saxons as Pagans who fought back.