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.