Friday, December 31, 2010

Dear Paul Krugman: Voodoo is a religion, not another name for evil irrational bullshit.

Everyone of a certain age well remembers the arrival into the English language of the phrase "voodoo economics".

30 years later, though, isn't it time for critics of "trickle-down" theories to decouple their economic polemics from religious invectives? Voodoo, you see, is a religion. In fact, it has at least as many adherents as Judaism.

Voodoo is more properly spelled Vodou, as is done in Haiti, or Vodun, as is common in West Africa. In the Western Hemisphere, Vodou is not only widespread in Haiti, but is also found, among other places, in the US states of Louisiana, Florida and New York.

In the Americas, Vodou is closely related to the Candomble religion found in Brazil, and the Santeria religion of Puerto Rico and Cuba. Like Vodou, both Candomble and Santeria are found elsewhere, including in many parts of the US. Most major American cities now have Botanicas, shops that cater to practitioners of Afro-Carribean religions generally, as well as to all sufficiently curious spiritual seekers, or just people interested in buying prayer candles, books by Alan Kardec, incense, etc.

In Africa, Vodun is just one of many surviving strands of African Traditional Religion. Benin, Togo, Nigeria, and Ghana all have large populations of adherents of Vodun. Estimates of the total number of practitioners of African Traditional Religion go as high as 200 million (or even higher), making it one of the largest religious traditions in the world.

It is especially galling to see fuck-the-poor/let-them-eat-cake economics characterized as "Voodoo", when the fact is that Christianity, and this should hardly be news to anyone, is the religion most closely associated with the supply-side crowd.

So whatever value there might be in Paul Krugman's most recent editorial, titled "The New Voodoo", everything that he says is irrevocably tainted by Krugman's egregious callousness toward a religion he unthinkingly derides.

The most dangerous and pernicious forms of bigotry are those that pass as socially acceptable. And this acceptance is due to the fact that people are perfectly comfortable engaging in and perpetuating certain kinds of bigotry because, in their ignorance, they do not take the targets of their bigotry seriously.

Links related to Vodou and African Traditional Religion:

[the above image is from the Robson Khalaf's blog Povo do Santo.]

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A (very!) quick and dirty cross-cultural study of "supernatural" beliefs and experiences (with special attention to reincarnation)

1. According to to a 2009 study by the Pew Research Forum 65% of Americans "express belief in or report having experience with at least one of these diverse supernatural phenomena":

1. reincarnation
2. spiritual energy located in physical things
3. yoga as spiritual practice
4. the "evil eye" and/or
that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause harm
5. astrology
6. having been in touch with the dead
7. consulting a psychic
8. having a ghostly encounter

Some of the more specific findings include:
  • 25% of Americans believe "the position of the stars/planets can affect people's lives."
  • 26% believe that "spiritual energy [is] located in physical things like mountains, trees, crystals."
  • 24% believe in reincarnation.
  • 29% reported "having been in contact with the dead."
  • 16% of Americans believe in the "evil eye" and/or that "certain people can cast curses or spells that cause harm."
Most of the 65% who answered positively for one of these also answered positively for at least one other "supernatural" (Pew's term) belief or practice. Almost 1 in 5 Americans (18%) answered positively for at least four of the eight beliefs and practices in Pew's survey.

Pew also found that the number of Americans who have "ever had a religious or mystical experience" has more than doubled over the last six decades, going from 22% in 1962 to 49% in 2009. For white Evangelical Christians the 2009 number was a whopping 70%, and for African Americans, regardless of religion, it was 69%.

2. These results from American respondents are remarkably similar to the results that Pew obtained with their 2010 religious survey of people in Sub-Saharan Africa. In that study Pew asked Africans about 11 different beliefs and practices associated (according to Pew researchers) with African Traditional Religions. It was found that 25% of those surveyed reported "high levels of belief and practice" in ATR, despite the fact that many of these same Africans identified themselves as either Christian or Muslim.

Pew's criterion for "high levels of belief and practice" was positive responses to 7 out of the 11 criteria that people were asked about. So we can very roughly ompare the 18% of Americans who responded positively to 4 out of 8 "supernatural" criteria to the 25% of Africans who responded positively to 7 out of 11 criteria. Such a comparison clearly indicates that Americans are not all that different from Africans in terms of propensity to non-Christian "supernatural" beliefs and experiences.

Here are the 11 criteria (7 beliefs and 4 practices) that Pew used in their sub-Saharan Africa survey:

1. belief in the protective power of certain spiritual people
2. the power of juju and other sacred objects
3. the evil eye
4. witchcraft
5. evil spirits
6. the protective power of sacrificial offerings to ancestors
7. reincarnation
8. visiting traditional healers
9. owning sacred objects
10. participating in ceremonies to honor ancestors
11. participating in traditional puberty rituals

The Pew Sub-Saharan Africa study also provides some data on what they call "intense religious experiences", but this is approached rather differently from the similar sounding question addressed to Americans. In the US subjects were simply asked if they had ever personally had "a religious or mystical experience", to which 49% answered "yes" (as already mentioned above). Here is how the Pew report describes their findings concerning "intense religious experiences" among sub-Saharan Africans:
Many Christians and Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa experience their respective faiths in a very intense, immediate, personal way. For example, three-in-ten or more of the people in many countries say they have experienced a divine healing, witnessed the devil being driven out of a person or received a direct revelation from God. Moreover, in every country surveyed that has a substantial Christian population, at least half of Christians expect that Jesus will return to earth during their lifetime. And in every country surveyed that has a substantial Muslim population, roughly 30% or more of Muslims expect to personally witness the re- establishment of the caliphate, the golden age of Islamic rule that followed the death of Muhammad.

Many of these intense religious experiences, including divine healings and exorcisms, are also characteristic of traditional African religions. Within Christianity, these kinds of experiences are particularly associated with Pentecostalism, which emphasizes such gifts of the Holy Spirit as speaking in tongues, giving or interpreting prophecy, receiving direct revelations from God, exorcising evil and healing through prayer. About a quarter of all Christians in four sub-Saharan countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria) now belong to Pentecostal denominations, as do at least one-in-ten Christians in eight other countries. But the survey finds that divine healings, exorcisms and direct revelations from God are commonly reported by African Christians who are not affiliated with Pentecostal churches.
[pp. 13-14]
Because the question of "intense religious experiences" was framed so differently in the two studies, any comparison must be approached with great caution. Nonetheless, a very general indication is given that in both America and sub-Saharan Africa "intense" religiosity is quite common.

Also, see this follow-up post with a country-by-country breakdown for belief in reincarnation in the sub-Saharan African nations included in the Pew study: Belief in Reincarnation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

3. Let's also take a look at Pew's 2006 10-country survey of Pentecostal Christians, with special attention to the results for the United States. Although this study was focussed on Pentecostalists, Pew also gathered data from "the general public" for comparison.

Pew's multi-country Pentecostal study allows for more direct comparison between American and African individuals, although fewer African countries were included (there were a total of 19 sub-Saharan countries in the 2010 study, whereas the 2006 study included only three African countries: Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa).

The Pew Pentecostal study found that 64% of all Americans (from the "general public" -- not just Pentecostalists) reported that they pray to God outside of religious services every day. The average in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa combined was only slightly higher: 70%.

This might not sound especially "supernatural", but prayer obviously and directly implies some belief in one or more Beings that one is praying "to". Four other, perhaps more obvious, measures of supernatural beliefs are speaking in tounges, divine healings, receiving direct divine revelations, and either personally witnessing or participating in exorcism. The results for these are as follows (again it should be emphasized that these are results for the "general public" and not just Pentecostalists or Christians):

Frequent participation in Church services where speaking in tongues occurs
American 14% || South African 11% || Kenyan 19% || Nigerian 9%

Personally witnessed divine healings
American 29% || South African 38% || Kenyan 71% || Nigerian 62%

Personally received direct divine revelations
American 26% || South African 33% || Kenyan 39% || Nigerian 41%

Personal experience with exorcisms
American 11% || South African 33% || Kenyan 61% || Nigerian 57%

4. While we are at it, let's look at the 2008 European Values Survey results on the question of belief in reincarnation. These numbers were already reported on in an earlier post, but here they are again, and now including Bulgaria, Cyprus (and Northern Cyprus), Czech Republic, Denmark, Georgia, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, & Turkey which were not included in that earlier post (and this still doesn't include all countries surveyed):

1/3 or more believe in reincarnation
Latvia 41.9% (2.3M)
Lithuania 37.4% (3.4M)
Ukraine 37.1% (46.3M)
Iceland 36.2% (0.3M)
Russian Federation 33.0% (142.0M)
1/4 or more
Portugal 31.4% (10.6M)
Estonia 30.7% (1.3M)
Belarus 30.6% (9.9M)
Ireland 30.5% (4.4M)
Northern Cyprus 30.5% (0.3M)
Bulgaria 29.8% (7.6M)

Austria 28.8% (8.3M)
Turkey 28.4% (74.8M)
Switzerland 28.0% (7.6M)
Great Britain 27.8% (62.0M)
1/5 or more
Finland 24.7% (5.3M)
Hungary 23.2% (10.0M)
Northern Ireland 23.2% (1.7M)
Spain 23.1% (45.6M)
Serbia 22.6% (7.4M)
France 22.6% (62.3M)
Sweden 22.6% (9.3M)
Bosnia-Herzegovina 22.4% (3.8M)
Romania 21.8% (21.5M)
Armenia 21.5% (3.1M)
1/6 or more
Slovenia 19.4% (2.0M)
Italy 19.2% (60.2M)
Albania 19.1% (3.1M)
Netherlands 18.8% (16.4M)
Germany 18.4% (82.1M)
Denmark 18.4% (5.5M)
Norway 18.4% (4.8M)
Czech Republic 17.6% (10.7M)
Cyprus 17.5% (0.9M)
Belgium 17.5% (10.7M)
Poland 17.4% (38.1M)
Greece 17.4% (11.3M)
less than 1/6
Croatia 16.2% (4.4M)
Slovak Republic 13.0% (5.4M)
Georgia 11.3% (4.4M)

Azerbaijan 7.1% (8.7M)

(These show what percentage of people answered "yes" to Question 31 on the 2008 European Values Study: "Do you believe in reincarnation?" Numbers in parentheses are total population for each country. Here is a handy link so that you can go and look up the data yourself. Countries in bold were not included in the earlier post tabulating these survey results on this blog. Countries in bold brick red were not included in the original version of this post and were added on 3/30/11)

5. "Why belief in reincarnation?" (in lieu of a conclusion, for now ...)

One of the things that emerges from this quick and dirty cross-cultural study is that certain "supernatural" ideas and experiences appear to be quite resilient. Reincarnation especially stands out because it is found ubiquitously in all parts of Europe, in the US, and in heavily Christianized (and Islamized) post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa.

In his 2006 study of earlier European Values Study results (prior to 2008), Erlendur Haraldsson drew attention to the special status of reincarnation:
Why Belief in Reincarnation?

Let us not ask the question of why people believe in life after death for, every religion supports it; but rather why people believe in reincarnation. Reincarnation does not only go against the scientific view but also against the dominant religious view in our part of the world.

[Erlendur Haraldsson, Nordic Psychology, 58, 171-180. The full text is available at Prof. Haraldsson's website.]
Therefore, belief in reincarnation provides us with a kind of psycho-spiritual marker of sorts, indicating the degree to which a significant portion of the population is able to resist sometimes quite intense ideological pressures.

In the specific case of persistent widespread belief in reincarnation in Europe, Haraldsson posits three different, complementary, explanations for this phenomenon: (1) the survival of ("indigenous") pre-Christian beliefs, (2) the importation of ("foreign") non-Christian beliefs, and (3) individuals arriving at the idea of reincarnation independently (Haraldsson does not use the words "indigenous" and "foriegn", which are quoted in the "ironic" sense, not to indicate actual direct quotation):
It is easy to point to three factors that may have had an impact on how relatively widespread the belief in reincarnation is.

First are pre-Christian beliefs in Scandinavia as well as other parts of Europe. The ancient Nordic poems in the Poetic Edda were first recorded in writing in Iceland in the 13th century but stem from the pre-Christian era (Sigurðsson 1999). From their contents we can assume that the Scandinavians believed in reincar- nation. E. g., in the poem Helgakvida Hundingsbana it is stated that the female hero Sigrun was Svava reborn. In a commentary in the Poetic Edda we read: it was the belief in olden times that men were born again, but that is now called old women's superstition (Hollander, 1928, p. 237).

There are even cases where arguments were made as to why a certain person was believed to be another person reborn. Some of them resemble rare cases of children who claim to remember a former life (Stevenson, 2003; Haraldsson, 2001, 2003).

Pre-christian literary sources from other parts of Europe tell a similar story. Plato discusses “metempsychosis” in several of his works (Phaedo 81c-82b, Phaedrus 248c-249b, the Republic 617d-620e, and Timaeus 41-42, 90c-92c.). Caesar writes in his book on the Gallic Wars (which took place in present-day France) “The cardinal doctrine which they [the schools of the Druids] seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass from one body to another” (Caesar, Book VI, 14). Roman historians refer to a similar belief among the Germans (for example Appian of Alexandria: 1987-89). Celtic poems from pre-Christian Ireland contain stories of rebirth (Chadwick, 1955-56; Meyer & Nutt, 1897) similar to those in the Poetic Edda. These sources give us reasons to assume that belief in rebirth was common in Europe before Christianization.

Secondly, from the 18th century onwards Western and Asian scholars and religious leaders introduced Hindu and Buddhist religious scriptures and philosophies to Europeans and they received considerable attention (Zander, 1999). This was particularly the case in the 19th and 20th century when societies and movements were established in Europe that made the doctrine of reincarnation an integral part of their teaching.

Thirdly and lastly, some people may, when brooding on the question of whether some part of their nature survives death, intuitively have found reincarnation a plausible concept or possibility.
[p. 177]
The full title of Haraldsson's paper is quite a mouthful: Popular psychology, belief in life after death and reincarnation in the Nordic countries, Western and Eastern Europe. As mentioned above, the pdf for this article is available for download at Erlendur Haraldsson's website, which is very much worth a visit!

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Playing the Fish" (What they mean by 'dialogue', part deux)

"Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."
Mark 1.17

Playing the Fish

When a fish feels the hook, it struggles to get free. This might involve jumping, making a long run, swimming back against the line or swimming around obstacles. Each species of fish fights differently.

Fish hooked in shallow water are more likely to jump and behave more frantically than those hooked in deep water. Deep-water fish often seek the bottom.

It's possible to land many small fish just by reeling them in. They'll fight, but they aren't as strong as the line and the rod. Use lighter tackle and you can get some fight out of the smallest fish in the lake.

If you're catch and release fishing, don't fight too long or the fish will die from exhaustion before or after you release it.

Fighting Bigger Fish

If a fish makes a run for it, don't panic. And don't try to reel in while the fish is swimming away from your line. Relax and let the drag and rod do the work. After you've set the hook, set your drag. If you're using 12-pound test, you should use about 4 pounds of drag. Just keep the rod at about a 45-degree angle to the water aim it straight at the fish.

When the fish slows down and stops taking more line, it's time to go to work. The best technique for the catch is to gently pull the rod up and then reel down as you lower it, using a pumping motion. Do it in small, smooth strokes rather than large abrupt sweeps because it will help keep both the line tight and the fish much calmer.

If the fish runs again, let it go and you will probably notice that this run is shorter and slower. But don't let the fish rest. If you can't hear your drag working, you should be reeling.

Don't be anxious. Even if you get the fish close to the boat, that doesn't mean it's done fighting. If it turns and runs, let it go. Your line is pretty short at this point, and pump-and-reel action could break it.

From Accomodation to Chinese Culture: Matteo Ricci, by Yung Hwa (found in Hwa's Mangoes or bananas?: the quest for an authentic Asian Christian theology):
The work of Ricci (1552-1610) and fellow Jesuits in seventeenth century China has been well-documented. Through faith and sheer doggedness, Ricci and his companion, Michele Ruggieri, managed to enter China in 1583, and eventually the imperial capital, Beijing, in 1600. They began a work which, despite its ups and down, led to the establishment of a permanent Catholic Church in China.

Fully aware of Chinese xenophobia and distrust of foreigners, they adopted a cautious and discreet approach. They mastered the Chinese language and the ancient classics, and dressed themselves like the Chinese scholars in order to gain maximum acceptability in Chinese high socieyt. They called their preaching shuyuan (academy) so as to present themselves as Western men of learning, and not priests propagating a new religion. Further, for as long as it was possible, Ricci consciously kept his true intentions hidden. For example, his major work, "The True Meaning of the Master of Heaven", a polemical work against Taoist and Buddhist beliefs, contains minimal references to Christian teachings. With respect to theological ideas, he writes:
This work did not touch upon all the mysteries of our holy faith, which should only be explained to catechumens and Christians; it considered only a few principles, in particular those which in some way can be proved by natural reason and understood through knowledge itself.
Ricci's work met with quick acceptance and response. Scholars are generally agreed that the success could be attributed to their timing, their use of Chinese [language] and philosophy, their accommodation approach, their virtuous conduct, and their mathematical, scientific, astronomical and cartographical skills.
[pp. 124-125]

From The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences and the Arts by John W. O'Malley
The Jesuit missionary strategy in China as it was conceived by Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606) and creatively put into practice by Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) and his successors can be said to have four major characteristics:

1. Accommodation or adaptation to Chinese culture. Valignano, who had been disappointed by the limited degree of the Jesuit's adaptation to Japanese culture, insisted in the first place on knowledge of the Chinese language. He called a few Jesuits to Macao in 1580 and ordered them to focus their attention entirely on the study of the language (fellow Jesuits criticized them for spending all their time studying Chinese). Two years later they entered China through the south. Probably inspired by the Japanese situation, they dressed like Buddhist monks. In 1595, after nearly fifteen years of experience, they changed their policy and adapted themselves to the the lifestyle and etiquette of the Confucian elite of literati and officials. Ricci was responsible for this change. This new policy would remain unchanged throughou the seventeenth century, and for most Jeuis missionaries Ricci became the reference point with regard to accommodation policy.

2. Propagation and evangelization 'from the top down.' Jesuits addressed themselves to the literate elite. The underlying idea was that if this elite, preferably the emperor and his court, were converted, the whole country would be won for Christianity [compare this to the strategy with regard to Saxon nobility eight centuries earlier]. The elite consisted mainly of literati, who had spent many years preparing for the examinations they must pass in order to enter officialdom. For these examinations they had to learn the Confucian classics and the commentaries on them. After having passed the metropolitan examinations, which took pace in Beijing every three years and at which about three hundred candidates were selected, they entered the official bureaucracy and received appointments as district magistrates or positions in the ministries. As in modern diplomatic service, the offices usually changed every three years. In order to enter into contact with this elite, Ricci studies the Confucian classics adn, with his remarkable gift of memory, became a welcome guest at the philosophical discussion groups organized by this elite.

3. Indirect propagation of the faith by using European science and technology in order to attract the attention of the educated Chinese and convince them of the high level of European civilization. Jesuits offered a European clock to the emperor, introduced paintings which astonished the Chinese by their use of perspective, translated the mathematical writings of Euclid with the commentaries of the famous Jesuit mathematician Christoph Clavius, worked at the Imperial Astronomy Bureau, wrote books on the calendar and on agriculture and technology, and printed an enormous global map which integrated the results of the latest world explorations. By means of these activities they established friendly relations which sometimes resulted in the conversion of members of elite . . . .

4. Openness to and tolerance of Chinese values. In China, the Jesuits encountered a society with high moral values, for which they expressed their admiration. They were of the opinion that this excellent social doctrine should be complemented by the metaphysical ideas of Christianity. However, the Jesuits rejected by Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism, which, in their eyes, was corrupted by Buddhism. They pleaded for a return to the original Confucianism, which they regarded as a philosophy based on natural law. In their opinion it contained the idea of God. Finally, they adopted a tolerant attitude toward certain Confucian rites, like the worship of ancestors and the veneration of Confucius, which they declared to be 'civil rites.'
[pp. 352-353]

See also:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Vodou Priestesses & Priests Being Lynched in Haiti

The following Reuters piece appears to have the most complete description of the situation with respect to recent killings of Vodou Mambos and Houngans (Priestesses & Priests) in Haiti. This has all the earmarks of a classic case of Blood Libel directed against a major branch of African Traditional Religion. Here is a direct link to the article at
Haiti urged to halt cholera anti-voodoo lynchings
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE | Thu Dec 23, 2010 6:06pm EST

(Reuters) - The head of Haiti's voodoo religion appealed to authorities Thursday to halt bloody lynchings of voodoo priests by people who blame them for causing the Caribbean country's deadly cholera epidemic.

Since the epidemic started in mid-October, at least 45 male and female voodoo priests, known respectively as "houngan" and "manbo," have been killed. Many of the victims were hacked to death and mutilated by machetes, Max Beauvoir, the "Ati" or supreme leader of Haitian voodoo, told Reuters.

"They are being blamed for using voodoo to contaminate people with cholera," Beauvoir said.

He said the killers accused voodoo priests of spreading cholera by scattering powder or casting "spells" and complained that local police and government officials were not doing enough to halt the lynchings and punish the killers. Voodoo is recognized and protected by the constitution as one of Haiti's main religions.

"My call is to the authorities so they can assume their responsibilities," said Beauvoir, who fears more attacks against voodoo devotees. Most of the lynchings occurred in the southwest of Haiti but also in the center and the north.

Since emerging in central regions in October, the cholera epidemic has ripped through Haiti's poor population, still traumatized from a January earthquake. It has killed well over 2,500 people and affected all of the nation's 10 provinces.

Cholera is mainly spread by contaminated water and food.

As the epidemic death toll has risen, so too has popular fear and anger. Some Haitians have blamed Nepalese United Nations peacekeepers for bringing cholera to a Caribbean nation where the disease had been absent for decades.

The U.N. mission in Haiti maintains there is no conclusive evidence to back this accusation, despite a report by an expert contracted by the French government that linked the infection to latrines at the Nepalese camp located beside a river.

In November, there were anti-U.N. riots over the cholera, which continued to claim victims as the Western Hemisphere's poorest state held elections marred by confusion and fraud charges. Final vote results have still not been announced.

Beauvoir said he had discussed the anti-voodoo attacks with Haiti's Communications and Culture Ministry, which confirmed the killings this week. Minister Marie-Laurence Lassegue made a public appeal for the lynchings to end.


More than half of Haiti's nearly 10 million people are believed to practice voodoo, a religion brought from West Africa several centuries ago by slaves forced to work on the plantations of white masters in what was then the rich French Caribbean colony of Saint Domingue.

Cholera, which causes virulent debilitating diarrhea, can kill in hours if left untreated. But it also can be easily cured through fast rehydration of the patient. Aid experts say the ignorance of many Haitians about the disease is one of the causes of the fears and suspicions surrounding the epidemic.

In at least one case in central Haiti, an angry mob worried about possible contagion destroyed a cholera treatment center being set up by foreign medical workers.

For this reason, public education about the disease and how it is spread and can be treated is essential, aid groups say.

"It is hardly surprising that people would be anxious about cholera when it appears in their communities for the first time," said Delphine Chedorge, head of mission in Haiti for Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres, one of the foreign medical groups most active in fighting the epidemic.

"We also need to make people understand that opening new (cholera treatment centers) in or near their towns and villages can help stop the spread of the disease, protecting their communities, rather than endangering them," she said in an MSF statement.

Beauvoir said he suspected that representatives of some other religions might be stirring up popular fears against voodoo practitioners using the cholera as a pretext.

"I saw this coming. Since the earthquake some people have been blaming us, saying that we cast spells and did evil things which brought the earthquake as a punishment," he said.

After the January 12 earthquake, which wrecked much of the capital Port-au-Prince and killed more than 250,000 people, voodoo leaders had to defend themselves publicly against accusations by some Evangelical preachers that the voodoo religion somehow caused the natural disaster.

(Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Bill Trott)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blood Libel Against Africans & African Traditional Religion

Al Jazeera recently aired a half-hour documentary ("Magic and Murder") in which a British journalist, Charles Stratford, claims to expose the practice of ritual infanticide among practitioners of the Vodun religion in the African nation of Benin. Such an extraordinary accusation, especially when aimed so broadly (and recklessly) at an entire religious tradition, obviously requires extraordinary evidence. But Al Jazeera presented no evidence whatsoever that even one single child had been killed in anything like the manner claimed in the "documentary".

Despite the complete lack of evidence, this travesty perpetrated by Al Jazeera has been taken seriously by many people, including some who should know better. Even more amazingly, there has been little or no criticism or serious scrutiny of this hatchet-job, let alone anything like the kind of outrage that such blatantly racist propaganda should incite.

But this was not an isolated incident. Earlier this year there was a spate of stories coming out of Uganda claiming that an "epidemic of child sacrifice" was underway there. A typical example is an item from the Ugandan press with the very subtle title "Uganda's Epidemic of Child Sacrifice." The story opens with a gruesome tale about a 6 month old child who was beheaded by the father and stuffed into a plastic bag. At first the article states that according to Police the murder was part of a "a witchcraft-inspired ritual." But then we learn that: "Later examination, however, revealed that Sserubiri [the father] was a regular user of narcotics and had once been admitted to a mental health hospital." So, just exactly how does an isolated murder by a mentally ill drug addict amount to evidence of an "epidemic of child sacrifice"?!?

How is it possible for such unsubstantiated lies to be perpetuated not only by the African press and Al Jazeera, but also by "respectable" western media organizations? I would suggest that a major reason for this is that claims of "child sacrifice", "ritual infanticide", etc are not viewed as all that extraordinary -- so long as they are directed against Africans, and practitioners of African Traditional Religion in particular. Rather than being approached with anything like the kind of caution that such claims merit, these kinds of stories fit very comfortably with widespread preconceived notions about Africa, Africans, and their "superstitions". This accounts for the readiness to believe in such outrageous accusations without any need for actual evidence.

And this eagerness to believe horrible things about Africa and Africans isn't just a matter of pernicious racist assumptions about "Darkest Africa", or bigoted preconceptions about "primitive" religions, although there is a lot of that. In addition there is that dirty little secret of the Western psyche: Blood Libel.

But before going any further, let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that allegations of violence against, and even murder of, children in Africa should be automatically discounted simply on the grounds of "cultural sensitivity" or political correctness or anything of the sort. Child abuse in any form is a terrible crime, and anyone who abuses, much less kills, a child should be treated as the worst possible kind of criminal. And raising awareness about child abuse is necessary in order to combat it.

But when allegations are made targeted at specific groups of people, such as Africans, or specific religions, such as Vodun, claiming that these actively encourage and engage in violence against children, that is a completely different matter. And this is precisely the kind of racist, and/or religiously bigoted, smear that I am talking about. Historically the most well-documented example of this kind of insidious accusation is that of Jewish Blood Libel.

Background on Blood Libel
Throughout the Middle Ages, European Christians perpetuated the horrendous myth of ritual child murders committed by Jews. Such accusations are generically referred to as "blood libel."

The online Jewish Encyclopedia has an entry for "blood accusation," which reads, in part:
The first case in which Jews were actually accused of having killed a Christian child for ritual purposes was that of St. William of Norwich in 1144. According to an account recently discovered (Jessopp and James, "St. William of Norwich," Cambridge, 1899), the disappearance of the boy was explained by a Jewish convert, one Theobald of Cambridge, as due to a universal conspiracy of theEuropean Jews, who every year cast lots where the annual sacrifice of a Christian child at Passover should take place. In the preceding year the lot had been cast at Narbonne and had fallen on Norwich. Absolutely no evidence was adduced that a murder had been committed; it seems indeed that the lad had been merely in a cataleptic fit when found, and was buried alive by his own relatives. None of the Jews were tried or punished for the alleged crime, yet the mere statement of the Cambridge convert led to the bringing of similar charges at Gloucester in 1168, at Bury St. Edmunds in 1181, and at Winchester in 1192. In none of these cases was there any trial; but popular rumor was considered sufficient to establish the martyrdom of the lads, and this proved a considerable source of attraction to the cathedrals and abbeys of these towns.

In Dec., 1235, five children of a miller residing in the vicinity of the city of Fulda, Hesse-Nassau, were murdered, in consequence of which thirty-four Jews and Jewesses were slaughtered by the Crusaders. The Jews were accused of the deed, and those put to the torture are said to have confessed that they murdered the children, in order to procure their blood for purposes of healing ("ut ex eis sanguinem ad suum remedium elicerent"). It is necessary to note here (1) that the reports say nothing of the presence of witnesses; (2) that the confessions were elicited through torture, and were consequently worthless; (3) that these confessions speak only of the intention to procure a remedy ("remedium"), and contain no reference to ritualistic ceremonies; (4) that the German emperor, Frederick II., in order to sift the matter thoroughly, invited a large number of scholars and distinguished Jewish converts to Christianity from all parts of Europe, who, in answer to the question whether the Jews required Christian blood for their Passover ceremonies ("Judei Christianum sanguinem in parasceve necessarium haberent"), replied: "Neither the Old nor the New Testament states that the Jews lust for human blood: on the contrary, it is expressly stated in the Bible, in the laws of Moses, and in the Jewish ordinances designated in Hebrew as the 'Talmud,' that they should not defile themselves with blood. Those to whom even the tasting of animal blood is prohibited surely can not thirst for that of human beings, (1) because of the horror of the thing; (2) because it is forbidden by nature; (3) because of the human tie that also binds the Jews to Christians; and (4) because they would not wilfully imperil their lives and property." The judgment of the emperor reads: "For these reasons we have decided, with the general consent of the governing princes, to exonerate the Jews of the district from the grave crime with which they have been charged, and to declare the remainder of the Jews in Germany free from all suspicion."

This judgment did not suffice to clear the Jews of Germany from the general suspicion aroused by the Fulda incident.

The affair may, however, have been a symptom, not a cause; since the accusation soon after became still more frequent in other countries. As early as 1247 a trial, conducted in the little town of Valréas (Vaucluse, France), showed that the judges of the Inquisition there had heard of the blood accusation against the Jews. On the Wednesday before Easter (March 27) a two-year-old girl was found dead in the town moat, with wounds upon her forehead, hands, and feet. The fact that the child had been previously seen in the ghetto sufficed to fasten the suspicion of guilt upon the Jews. They were brought to trial, and, after being tortured, confessed even to the most absurd charges. One Bendig, for example, declared that the Jews had desired to celebrate communion on Easter Saturday, in accordance with a custom observed annually in large Jewish communities and particularly in Spain, where a Saracen was bought for this purpose whenever a Christian could not be obtained. This confession appears to have been based on the rumor set afloat by the renegade Theobald of Cambridge in connection with St. William of Norwich. Bendig further declared that, fearing detection, the Jews of Valréas had poured the blood of the child into the cesspool. In the same year (1247) the Jews of Germany and France complained to Pope Innocent IV. that they were accused of employing the heart of a Christian child in the celebration of communion during the Passover festival.
["blood accusation" entry in online Jewish Encyclopedia]
If you have the stomach for it, check out Rabbi Ken Spiro's History Crash Course #46 - Blood Libel.

"A recurring cultural pattern in Western history"

In the book Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend, sociologist Jeffrey S. Victor explains how the Jewish Blood Libel is part of a "a recurring cultural pattern" that also manifested itself in the so-called "Satanic Panic" in the US during the 80's and into the early 90's:
Satanic cult stories are part of a recurring cultural pattern in Western history involving the spread of subversion myths and a search for scapegoats to blame for social problems. These stories arise again and again during periods of widespread cultural crisis. The social process through which this pattern arises links the motifs of ancient legends to currently popular explanations for social problems.

Satanic cult rumor stories derive from an ancient legend, usually referred to as the "blood ritual myth." It tells the story of children being kidnapped and murdered by a secret conspiracy of evil strangers who use the children's blood and body parts in religious rituals. This myth is enduring because it offers universal appeal to the latent fears of parents everywhere. Variations of the myth are commonly elaborated upon with symbols of mysterious evil: graveyard robberies and the mutilation of corpses, secret meetings of people engaged in secret rituals, strange incantations, strange symbols, and people clothed in black robes with black cats, making ritual animal sacrifices and sometimes eating human body parts in cannibalistic rites. These are all interpreted as omens indicating that purity and innocence is being endangered by powerful agents of absolute evil . . . .

Today, the blood ritual myth is constantly being reworked by the mass media to serve as popular culture entertainment. Many horror stories in pop culture novels and movies are based on a theme of kidnapping and murder carried out for a variety of unsavory purposes, such as ritual sacrifice (The Believers), or the use of body parts (Coma). Similarly, some fairy tales depict children being kidnapped, usually by witches or monsters who may cook or eath them. In this way, popular culture keeps alive and makes familiar an ancient story's themes and symbols. Satanic cult stories are fabricated out of these cultural materials.
[pp. 75-76]
The ease with which this "recurring cultural pattern" can take hold of the modern Western psyche is shown by events in France in the late 60s, as recounted by Victor in the same book:
In France in May 1969, rumors that Jewish clothing store merchants were kidnapping teenage girls in their stores and selling them into forced prostitution provoked a series of community-wide panics in several small provincial cities. Stores owned by Jews and even ones presumed to be owned by Jews were boycotted and a few had their windows smashed. Some members of the local Jewish population received anonymous death threats.

Researchers traced the rumors back to stories about white slavery gangs, which were published in a national sensationalist tabloid magazine. The original story didn't mention Jews at all. Instead, the rumors built upon the folklore myths of European anti-Semitism which linked white slavery to Jews. As a result, the rumor stories were quite similar in different and distant provincial cities across France. Specific claims in different cities gave the stories local relevance, thereby providing the stories with apparent credibility .... Belief in the rumor stories persisted, even though no evidence could be found to support them and even though official sources continue to deny them.
[p. 74]
In addition to the "Blood Libel" mythos, there is a much more generic phenomenon sometimes referred to as "moral panic", a term credited to Stanley Cohen, (professor emeritus at the London School of Economics). According to Cohen, a moral panic occurs when there is a "fundamentally inappropriate" response to some perceived social problem or event. In his now classic study, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, Cohen set out to investigate the response to a series of violent encounters between the "Mods" and the "Rockers" during the the summer of 1964 in the UK. In addition to Cohen's now classic study, anyone interested in the theory of "moral panics" should also check out Moral Panic: The Social Construction of Deviance, by Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda.

"Moral panic" is a broad category that conceivably covers almost any kind of media frenzy, moral crusade, urban legend, etc. The difference between a simple "moral panic" and full-blown Blood Libel is (1) Blood Libel involves allegations of extreme forms of ritualized violence, usually fatal, against children, and (2) Blood Libel allegations are directed against some religiously and/or racially defined group.

The Mysterious Case of the Missing 40,000 Child Sex Slaves

Not long after the Ugandan press began running stories about an "epidemic of child sacrifice" (as mentioned in the Introduction to this post), a new meme was unleashed: that the World Cup games would result in a flood of 40,000 child sex slaves entering South Africa.

An early adopter of the "40,000 prostitutes" story was the New York Daily News, which ran an article on March 6th, claiming that there were "warnings" being issued by "officials", "world cup organizers", and even a United Nations agency. The Daily News wasn't satisfied, though, with the luridness of mere prostitution, so they upped the ante with the claim that these prostitutes would, in fact, be child sex-slaves:
"Especially troubling was the prospect that impoverished children would be lured into sex work by the country’s sordid drug and prostitution underworld."
But far from being "troubled" by this "prospect", the international media couldn't get enough of the 40,000 child sex-slaves story. It found it's way into The Telegraph, The Huffington Post, The Hindustan Times, CBSNews, BeliefNet, The Christian Science Monitor, AssociatedContent.Com, GlobalPost.Com, etc.

There is no denying that prostitution and major sporting events go together. One can find similar, but much less sensationalistic stories, on prostitution related to the Super Bowl, the Olympics, NASCAR races, and even golf tournaments. But as time went on, more and more people came to suspect that there was something especially outlandish about the 40,000 prostitutes story.

Less than two weeks after the first major stories sporting the "40,000 prostitutes" claim, Brett Davidson at the wingspeed blog had pointed out that "The exact same claims were made ahead of the World Cup in Germany — but afterwards, an investigation by the Council of the European Union (documents 5006/1/07 and 5008/7) found a grand total of just 5 cases of trafficking — yes, just 5." Davidson's March 19 entry is titled: “40 000 prostitutes” – how rumours and lies become fact.

And when Davidson says "the exact same claims" he means just that. Prior to the 2006 World Cup in Berlin, media outlets were reporting that a very large number of prostitutes would be descending on that fair city. And just how large was that large number? 40,000. Exactly. Davidson also points out that he was not the first to notice this, uh, coincidence, and he provides a link to a spiked-online piece by Brendan O'Neill titled, very appropriately, "Stop this illicit trade in bullshit stories"! Bruno Waterfield, also writing for spiked-online, had written an earlier expose on the "lurid headlines" that preceded the 2006 World Cup: Exposed: the myth of the World Cup ‘sex slaves’.

Here are some other articles that have been written exposing this rumor:

The next installment of this series will focus on the two concrete examples of Blood Libel mentioned in the introduction: the allegation of ritual infanticide against Vodun practitioners in Benin, and the claims of an "epidemic of child sacrifice" in Uganda.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the Sacred Band of Thebes (in honor of the repeal of DADT)

From Plato's Phaedrus:
And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their beloved, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other's side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?

From Plutarch's Life of Pelopidas:
Gorgidas, according to some, first formed the Sacred Band of three hundred chosen men, to whom, as being a guard for the citadel, the State allowed provision, and all things necessary for exercise: and hence they were called the city band, as citadels of old were usually called cities. Others say that it was composed of young men attached to each other by personal affection, and a pleasant saying of Pammenes is current, that Homer's Nestor was not well skilled in ordering an army, when he advised the Greeks to rank tribe and tribe, and family and family together, that-
"So tribe might tribe, and kinsmen kinsmen aid."
but that he should have joined lovers and their beloved. For men of the same tribe or family little value one another when dangers press; but a band cemented by friendship grounded upon love is never to be broken, and invincible; since the lovers, ashamed to be base in sight of their beloved, and the beloved before their lovers, willingly rush into danger for the relief of one another. Nor can that be wondered at since they have more regard for their absent lovers than for others present; as in the instance of the man who, when his enemy was going to kill him, earnestly requested him to run him through the breast, that his lover might not blush to see him wounded in the back. It is a tradition likewise that Iolaus, who assisted Hercules in his labours and fought at his side, was beloved of him; and Aristotle observes that, even in his time, lovers plighted their faith at Iolaus's tomb. It is likely, therefore, that this band was called sacred on this account; as Plato calls a lover a divine friend. It is stated that it was never beaten till the battle at Chaeronea: and when Philip, after the fight, took a view of the slain, and came to the place where the three hundred that fought his phalanx lay dead together, he wondered, and understanding that it was the band of lovers, he shed tears and said, "Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything that was base."

It was not the disaster of Laius, as the poets imagine, that first gave rise to this form of attachment amongst the Thebans, but their lawgivers, designing to soften whilst they were young their natural fierceness, brought, for example, the pipe into great esteem, both in serious and sportive occasions, and gave great encouragement to these friendships in the Palaestra, to temper the manners and characters of the youth. With a view to this they did well, again, to make Harmony, the daughter of Mars and Venus, their tutelar deity; since, where force and courage is joined with gracefulness and winning behaviour, a harmony ensues that combines all the elements of society in perfect consonance and order.

Gorgidas distributed this Sacred Band all through the front ranks of the infantry, and thus made their gallantry less conspicuous; not being united in one body, but mingled with so many others of inferior resolution, they had no fair opportunity of showing what they could do. But Pelopidas, having sufficiently tried their bravery at Tegyrae, where they had fought alone and around his own person, never afterward divided them, but, keeping them entire, and as one man, gave them the first duty in the greatest battles. For as horses ran brisker in a chariot than singly, not that their joint force divides the air with greater ease, but because being matched one against the other emulation kindles and inflames their courage; thus he thought brave men, provoking one another to noble actions, would prove most serviceable, and most resolute, where all were united together.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The latest from Dylan and Lauren (the "Everlong kids")

Two words: Goose. Bumps.


[This is an homage to Captain Beefheart. Very fitting. Achingly beautiful.]

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nergal: "I'm fighting doctrines." ("Ja walczę z doktrynami.")

Nergal has apparently undergone his bone-marrow transplant operation! Let us all hope for his complete and speedy recovery from this so he can get back to kicking ass onstage. Also, there is a major new interview with Nergal that has come out in the Polish language magazine Pre Kroj. So far there is not an online version of the interview, even in Polish (at least that I know of).

I will post more information on Nergal's post-op condition and other news as soon as I can. In the meantime, here are some choice quotes that I found (see the link at the bottom of the post for the source).
You know, I get stupid emails like: "Well, Nergal, and what if the bone marrow for your transplant is from a Catholic?". My answer: "So what? Am I fighting with people? No, I'm fighting doctrines. In my view, Christian values are an affront to human dignity, an insult to my intelligence. I say this openly, and nothing here has changed . . . .

Despite the difficult circumstances, my life is still full and valuable. When things are going well, do you ask yourself questions like: Why I was born a healthy child? Why have I sold so many records? Why, did I meet a wonderful woman? This is accepted as the norm. All these seemingly bad things are part of the same trend of energy. You can learn a lot thanks to them, but this need not be attributed to the hidden meaning in them ... And if God is punishing me, or putting me to the test, who is punishing the children who lie here next to me in the same ward and die? Let's leave God out of this, and also Mickey Mouse and other products of human imagination, and let's focus on reality, man.

Wiesz, dostaję idiotyczne e-maile w stylu: "No dobrze, Nergal, a co, jeśli szpik będzie od katolika?". Odpowiadam: "I co z tego? Czy ja walczę z ludźmi? Nie, ja walczę z doktrynami". Moim zdaniem wartości chrześcijańskie uwłaczają ludzkiej godności, obrażają moją inteligencję. Mówię o tym otwarcie i nic się tu nie zmieniło.

Mimo trudnych okoliczności moje życie wciąż jest pełne i wartościowe. A kiedy jest dobrze, nie zadajemy sobie pytań w stylu: Dlaczego urodziło mi się zdrowe dziecko? Dlaczego sprzedałem tyle płyt? Dlaczego spotkałem wspaniałą kobietę? Przyjmujemy to za normę. Te wszystkie pozornie złe rzeczy są częścią tego samego nurtu energii. Można się dzięki nim wiele nauczyć, ale nie trzeba doszukiwać się w nich ukrytego sensu... A jeżeli Bóg mnie karze albo wystawia na próbę, to za co karze te wszystkie małe dzieci, które leżą tu obok na oddziale i umierają? Zostawmy na moment Boga, Mickey Mouse i inne wytwory ludzkiej wyobraźni w szufladzie i skupmy się na sobie, na człowieku.

Nergal: "Za co Bóg karze małe dzieci, które umierają?"

Widukind & the Saxon Resistance to Christianity (The Saxons, Part Two)

"All denounced Widukind as the instigator of this wicked rebellion."
Annales regni Francorum

The fierce Saxon opposition to Christianization is inseparably identified with the name of a Westphalian nobleman: Widukind. He is to the Saxons what Geronimo is to the Apache, or Sitting Bull to the Lakota, or Quanah Parker to the Comanche, or Tecumseh to the Shawnee.

It should really be no surprise that, despite the class divisions discussed in the first post in this series, the leadership of the Saxon resistance would fall to a member of the warrior elite (and one who also had strong ties to the warrior nobility of the Danish Heathens as well). If missionaries found a more receptive response among the aristocratic edhilingui than among the lower classes, that is nothing more than a reflection of the strategy pursued by the Christians themselves. This strategy focussed on first currying favor with Pagan nobles, who were then employed to do the dirty work of imposing the new religion on their inferiors. Whatever limited success this strategy might have enjoyed among some members of the Saxon upper class, others proved ready to fight for their old Gods in a sacred war that united all Heathen Saxons in a way that transcended mere distinctions of social standing and wealth.

Considering his central importance to European history, Widukind is a relatively little known figure in the English speaking world, even among Heathens and Pagans. For example, in their History of Pagan Europe, Jones and Pennick mention Widukind but once, and then only to remark upon his eventual baptism! [p. 127]

Here is a list of some works in English that discuss Widukind more than in passing:
  1. The English translation of Charlemagne: Father of a Continent by Italian historian Alessandro Barbero (2004).
  2. Peter Brown's The Rise of Western Christendom (2003, 2ed).
  3. A paper by American historian Eric J. Goldberg, The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered (1995).
  4. The anthology The Continental Saxons From Migration to the Period of the Tenth Century, edited by Dennis Howard Green and Frank Siegmund, which contains a chapter devoted to The Conversion of the Old Saxons, by John Hines, professor of history at Cardiff (2003).
  5. Early Carolingian Warfare: Prelude to Empire by Bernard S. Bachrach (2001).
  6. Eric J. Goldberg has also written a book-length study titled Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict under Louis the German, 817-876, in which he treats extensively with the Stellinga Uprising, but, because of the period covered, does not have much to say directly about Widukind (2006).
  7. The 1905 English translation of Hans Prutz' The Age of Charlemagne, which, while obviously at least somewhat dated, has quite a bit to say on the subject of Widukind, and is very useful so long as one is also looking at more recent scholarship as well.
  8. Also, there are translations available of the primary sources, including the Royal Frankish Annals. A recent edition is Carolingian Chronicles, by Bernhard Walter Scholz and Barbara Rogers.
The remainder of this post will consist of excerpts from the first four works mentioned above. No attempt has been made to reduce the amount of overlap (or just plain repetition) between these excerpts, or with the material already presented in the other posts in this series (or elsewhere in this blog).

From Alessandro Barbero's
Charlemagne: Father of a Continent:
It was a ferocious war in a country with little or no civilization, with neither roads nor cities, and entirely covered with forests and marshland. The Saxons sacrificed prisoners of war to their Gods, as Germans had aways done before converting to Christianity, and the Franks did not hesitate to put to death anyone who refused to be baptized. Time and again the Saxon chiefs, worn down by war with no quarter, sued for peace, offered hostages, accepted baptism, and undertook to allow missionaries to go about their work. But every time that vigilance slackened and Charles was engaged on some other front, rebellions broke out, Frankish garrisons were attacked and massacred, and monasteries were pillaged. Even the border regions of the Frankish kingdom were not safe. In 778, when Saxons found out that the king and his army were engaged on the other side of the Pyrenees, and would not be able to return before many weeks of forced marches, they appeared in the Rhine Valley. Local commanders had great difficulty in containing them, and then only after much devastation and plunder.

During the period of these rebellions, the figure of a single leader emerged from among the Saxon ranks. His name was Prince Widukind, and his authority was acknowledged by all the tribes. Just at the time when Charles felt confident that he had pacified the region and gained the loyalty of the Saxon nobles, it was this leader who triggered the most spectacular rebellion by wiping out the Frankish forces hurriedly sent to confront him on the Suntel Mountains in 782. Beside himself with anger at the treachery that had also cost him the lives of two of his closest aides, his chamberlain Adalgisile and his constable Geilo, Charles bround in a new army and forced the rebels to capitulate, with the exception of Widukind, who took refuge with the Danes. The Saxons had to hand over their arms and then, when he had them in his power, he had 4,500 of them decapitated in a single day at the Verden on the Aller, a tributary of the Weser. This episode produced perhaps the greatest stain on his reputation.

Several historians have attempted to lessen Charle's responsibility for the massacre, by stressing that until a few months earlier the king thought he had pacified the country, the Saxon nobles had sworn allegiance, and many of them had been appointed counts. Thus the rebellion constituted an act of treason punishable with death, the same penalty that the extremely harsh Saxon law imposed with great facility, even for the most insignificant crimes. Others have attempted to twist the accounts provided by sources, arguing that the Saxons were killed in battle and not massacred in cold blood, or even that the verb decollare (decapitate) was a copyist's error in place of decolare (relocate), so ther prisoners were simply deported. None of these attempts has proved credible ....

In reality, the most likely inspiration for the mass execution of Verden was the Bible. Exasperated by the continual rebellions, Charlemagne wanted to act like a true king of Israel. The Amelkites had dared to raise their hand to betray God's people, and it was therefore right that every last one of them should be exterminated. Jericho was taken all those inside had to be put to the sword, including men, women, old people, and children, even the oxen, sheep, and donkeys, so that no trace would be left of them. After defeating the Moabites, David, with whom Charles liked to compare himself, had the prisoners stretched out on the and ground, and two out of three were killed. This, too, was part of the Old Testament from which teh king drew constant inspiration, and it is difficult not to discern a practical and cruelly coherent application of that model in the massacre of Verden. Besides, the royal chronicler wrote a few years later, the war against the Saxons had to be conducted in such a manner that 'either they were defeated and subjugated to the Christian religion or completely swept away.'

In the years that followed 782, Charles conducted a war of unparalleled ruthlessness. For the first time, he wintered in enemy territory and systematically laid the country to waste to starve the rebels. At the same time, he had published the most ferocious of all the laws enacted during his life, the Capitulare de partibus Saxonie, which imposed the death penalty on anyone who offended the Christian religion and its clergy, and in reality it constituted a program for the forced conversion of the Saxons. We can only shudder as we read the sections of this law that condemn to death those who fail to observe fasting on Friday, thus reflecting a harsh Christianity far removed from the original message of the New Testament [bollocks]. Yet we should be careful not to put the blame for this barbarity onto the times in general. The Capitulare de partibus Saxonie is one of those provisions by which an infuriated general attempts to break the resistance of an entire people through terror, and Charles must bear the moral responsibility, like the many twentieth-century generals responsible for equally inhuman measures. It is more important to emphasize that the edict provoked criticisms among Charles's entourage precisely because of its ruthlessness. Particularly severe criticisms came from Alcuin, the spiritual adviser he most listened to.

The policy of terror and scorched earth initially appeared to pay off. In 785, after the Franks has ravaged the country as far as the Elbe, Widukind was obliged to capitulate, and he presented himself at the palace of Attigny in France to be baptized. The king acted as godfather. Pope Adrian congratulated the victor and ordered thanks to be given in all the churches of Christendom for the new and magnificent victory for the faith. But the baptism imposed by force did not prove very effective. In 793 the harshness of Frankish government ferocity provoked another mass insurrection in the northern regions of Saxony, which had been more superficially Christianized. 'Once again breaking their faith,' according to the royal chronicler, the Saxons burned churches, massacred clergymen, and prepared yet again to resist in their forests.

Charles intervened with now customary ferocity, indeed with even more drastic and frighteningly modern measures. Rather than limit himself to devastating the rebel country and starving the population, he deported them en masse and planned the resettlement of those areas with Frankish and Slav colonists. However, he was an able politician and soon understood the need to modify his approach to the problem. He intensified his contacts with the Saxon aristocracy and sought out their collaboration. At a large assembly in Aachen in 797, he isssued on their advice a new version of the capitulary that was considerably more conciliatory than the previous one. This twin policy proved immediately effective, because it guaranteed almost definitively the collaboration of the Saxon nobles with the new regime. Eigil, the monk at Fulda monastery who wrote the account of Abbot Sturmi's life, stated during those very years that Charles had imposed Christ's yoke on the Saxons 'through war, persuasion, and also gifts,' demonstrating that he well understood how a new flexibility had made it possible to integrate those obstinate Pagans into the Christian empire.
[pp. 44-48]

The Rise of Western Christendom by Peter Brown:
Charlemagne proved to be a man of truly "Napoleanic" energy and width of vision. He was constantly on the move and constantly planning. In one year alone (in 785) he covered 2,000 miles, pacing the frontiers of his new dominions. Such energy boded ill for the Old Saxons. The fate of the Pagan Saxons was crucial to Charles' new concept of Christian empire. Not only were Saxons Pagan, they were a surprisingly aggressive warrior confederacy whose raids affected precisely the areas in central Germany werhe Frankish settlement and a Frankish style of life had begun to be established.

As had once been the case along the Roman limes, so now in the eighth century, part of the danger posed by the Saxon challenge came from the fact that Franks and Saxons had drawn closer to each other. Saxon noblemen had already come to adopt a large measure of Frankish customs. Yet, like King Radbod [of Frisia], they clung all the more tenaciously to Paganism so as to differentiate themselves from the Franks. It was all the more essential for the prestige of the Carolingian family that the Saxons, who come to adopt so much of Franksih ways, should be declared to be outside the pale as Pagans, and that, as Pagans, they should be well and truly defeated.

In 772, Charlemagne led the Franks into Saxony. They were said to have desecrated the great intertribal sanctuary of the Irminsul, the giant tree which uphead the world. They rode home again, with much plunder, in time for the hunting season in the Ardennes. Next spring the Franks were in northern Italy. In 774, Charles became king, also, of the Lombards. He even made a short visit to Rome. It was the first time that a Frankish king had set foot in Rome. It was also the first time since the fifth century that a western ruler of such power had been greeted in Rome with the sort of elaborate ceremonies which the Romans know so well how to put on. Charles entered Saint Peter's and, next day, was led through the gigantic basilica churches of the city. In return, Charles proved to be a generous donor. An influx of Frankish silver marked a dramatic recovery in the fortunes of the popes, which was made plain by an unprecedented boom in buildings and repairs.

But it was in Germany, and not in Italy, that Charles showed himself to be a ruler as determined to be obeyed in all matters as any Roman emperor had been. The Saxon war was fought along the same routes into northern Germany as had been taken the legions of Augustus. But this time, unlike Augustus who lost his legions in the Teutoburger Wald, Charlemagne won. It was an unusually vehement war, characterized by the storming, one after another, of well-defended hill-forts. The very flexibility of the kingless society of the Old Saxons prolonged the misery. Total surrender of the Saxons as a whole was impossible. Fifteen treaties were made and broken in 13 years. One Saxon nobelman, Widukind, was able to avoid submission for decades on end. He fled to the Danes and involved even the Pagans of Frisia in his resistance.

For a decade, and entire Frankish order was challenged in the north. Charles found himself forced to take over more territory than he had, perhaps, at first intended to do. He pressed on from the Weser to the Elbe, entering the northern healthlands as far as the Danes. The populations of whole areas were forcibly relocated. In 782, he had 4,500 Saxon prisoners beheaded at Verden, southeast of Bremen....

In 785, Widukind finally submitted and accepted Christian baptism. In the same year, Charles issued his Capitulary on the Region of Saxony. A Capitulary was a set of administrative rulings "from the word of mouth of the king," grouped under capita, short headings. These were very different in their brusque clarity from the long-winded rhetoric of Roman imperial edicts. They registered, in writing, the invisible, purely oral shock wave of the royal will. The royal will was unambiguous. In theory at least, the frontier was now definitively closed. No other rituals but those of the Christian Church could be practiced in a Frankish province.
"If anyone follows pagan rites and causes the body of a dead man to be consumed by fire ... let him pay with his life.

"If there is anyone of the Saxon people lurking among them unbaptized, and if he scorns to come to baptism and wishes to absent himself and stay a pagan, let him die."

A small body of clergymen (notably Alcuin, a Saxon from Boniface's Britain, who was himself connected with the family of Willibrod) were challenged by the brusqueness to restate, more forcibly than ever before, a view of Christian missions which emphasized preaching and persuasion. But, in fact, when it came to Charlemagne's treatment of the Saxons, most later writers took no notice of Alcuin's reservations. They accepted the fact that, as befitted a strong king, Charlemagne was entitled to preach to the Saxons 'with a tongue of iron' -- as a later Saxon writer put it without a hint of blame. Force was what was needed on a dangerous frontier. Education began, rather, at home. IN the reigns of Charlemagne and his successors, a substantially new Church was allied with a new political system, both of which were committed, to a quite unprecedented degree, to the "correction" and education of their subjects.
[pp. 431-433]


From Eric J. Goldberg's The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered:

Charlemagne's conquest of Saxony was a momentous turning point that overthrew the distinctive political structures and Pagan culture of the Saxons. Before the conquest, Franco-Saxon relations had been a checkered history of wars, alliances, and Saxon payments of tribute. By the 770s Charlemagne resolved to incorporate Saxony into his growing empire, apparently in order to settle once and for all border disputes with the Saxons. The result was a series of wars, raids, treaties, and rebellions between 772 and 804 through which Saxony south of the Elbe was gradually incorporated into the Frankish empire. In the oft-quoted words of Einhard: "No war ever undertaken by the Frankish people was more prolonged, more full of atrocities, or more demanding in effort." This was a war of conquest and conversion. Charlemagne equated Saxon submission to Frankish rule with the acceptance of Christianity; according to one Franksih author, Charlemagne resolved "to persevere until the Saxons had either been overcome and subjected to the Christian religion or totally exterminate."

Charlemagne's conquest of Saxony actually fell into two distinct phases (772-85 and 792-804) separated by a seven-year armistice (785-92). Between 772 and 785 the war followed a similar annual pattern: almost every year a group of Saxons revolted and attacked a Frankish church, army, or fortress; the Frankish army then invaded Saxony and put down the rebellion without much difficulty; Charlemagne next negotiated with Saxon optimates and primores; and finally Charlemagne exacted oaths of fidelity and hostages from the Saxons and supervised mass baptisms. Between 777 and 785 Widukind, a Saxon Westphalian nobleman, and his socii repeatedly provoked these Saxon rebellions and eluded the clutches of the Franks by seeking refuge in Denmark. In the end Charlemagne bribed Widukind into submission: in 785 Widukind accepted baptism, and the king of the Franks received him "from the font and honored him with magnificent gifts." By 780 Charlemagne began to extend the Frankish church hierarchy into Saxony. After a series of mass executions in 782, Charlemagne abolished the Old Saxon pagus administration under chieftains and implemented the Grafschaftsverfassung (system of countships) common to the rest of the Frankish kingdoms. This new administration placed Saxony under the governance of comites selected from the Saxon nobilissimi. By 785, therefore, Charlemagne had incorporated all of Saxony south of the Elbe into the Frankish kingdom. After a seven-year peace between 785 and 792, the Saxons revolted again, but this time primarily in the regions north of the Elbe. After a series of military expeditions, Charlemagne finally ended the northern war by deporting all Saxons north of the Elbe and in Wihimondia (the northern regions between the mouths of the Aller and Elbe) to Francia.

Charlemagne practiced two main strategies that proved crucial for his success in the wars against the Saxons. First, he secured key strategic locations, such as Eresburg, Paderborn, and Lippspringe, He also confiscated extensive lands along the Hellweg, the main east-west Saxon road between the Rhine and Paderborn, to ensure communication and troop movement in and out of Saxony. Second, as alluded to above, Charlemagne followed a policy of enticing the Saxon edhilingui with bribes and gifts to accept Christianity and Frankish overlordship, as in the case of his chief opponent, Widukind. As Egil (822) wrote in his Vita Sturmi, "The kind ... converted the greater part of that people to the faith of Christ partly through wars, partly through persuasion, and also partly through bribes." Clearly the prospect of appointment to newly created Saxon countships must have convinced many nobilissimi to ally with Charlemagne.
[pp. 475-476]


From John Hines' The Conversion of the Old Saxons, found in The Continental Saxons From Migration to the Period of the Tenth Century, Green and Siegmund, eds.

The conversion of the Continental Saxons in the late eighth century stands out as an extraordinarily well defined flashpoint in European early medieval history . . . . The story of the conversion of the Saxons, enforced by the sword in accordance with Charlemagne's imperial political ambitions, is a brutally clear and stark one. While recognition of the vital place political methods and political motives held in the advance of Christianity in medieval Europe is commonplace, the Saxon case is so pure an example of this as to be paradoxically both extreme and typical at the same time (cf. Fletcher 1997:258, in a slightly different context: "Saxony may be the exception which proves the rule"). In the course and aftermath of the capitulation of the Saxons one can observe a thoroughly efficient replacement and reform of previous communal institutions: a cultural revolution, designed to make Saxonia an obedient and profitable part of the Carolingian empire.
[p. 299]

The first Saxon capitulary, probably of the mid-70-'s, ferociously compelling Christian observance and outlawing paganism, offers some remarkable views of alleged pagan ritual practices. Divination and soothsaying (divinos et sortilegos) are condemned (para 23) ... The cremation of the dead is condemned as a pagan practice ... Three known deities are named -- for renunciation -- in a baptismal formula of the ninth century: Wodan, Thunaer and Saxnot. Woden/Odinn and Thunor/Thorr to given them their Old English and Norse names, are highly familiar, and were evidently major deities of the pre-Christian Angl0-Saxson religion (Hines 1997; Turville-Petre 1964). Saxnot, 'companion of the Saxons', is clearly specific to the Saxons, although of sufficient antiquity to be included in Old English form, Saxneat, at the head of the genealogy of the relatively minor East Saxon royal dynasty.
[p. 303]

What then do we know of Widukind and his supporters? The sources offer no direct testimony as to his policies of motivation, setting aside the Revised Annals' presumably fictional and certainly derogatory allusions to the selfish self-interest of a criminal. There is, however, just enough additional information to allow us to make political sense of Widukind. A crucial point appears to be that he could act with a refuge in Scandinavia -- and thus presumably with the connivance and support of the Danish king. Widukind was thus fighting to be part of one politico-religious system -- non-Christian and north Germanic -- rather than another, the Carolingian empire. As represented in both Saxonia and Scandinavia, this preferred system was socially less rigidly hierarchical than the Frankish one, and this would very plausibly be one of its attractions to Widukind. Loyalty to, or a preference for, that which was traditional and familiar would not be ruled out either, as long as there was, or appeared to be, real scope for this choice. What we do not see here is any evidence of the more sophisticated political strategy whereby Christianity may be accepted, but leaders would prefer to accept it from a distant source, not an overbearing neighbor. (cf. Mayr-Hrting 1994:5-9). Sources such as Einhard's Vita Karoli scorn the Danish king Godfred's apparent ambition to emulate Charlemagne, and certainly in terms of any idea of wresting Charlemagne's empire from him it would have been absurd (Einhard, XIV). But a Danish king and the Frankish emperor were more closely comparable than one might think. The strength, capacity and ambitions of the Scandinavians were to be made manifest, in the course of the following century, in a vast Viking 'empire', albeit one that was only haphazardly organized or co-ordinated in political terms.

A cult of warfare and violence, focussed primarily on the Gods Óðinn and Þórr, became central to Viking ideology and motivation. In this context, it is difficult not to believe that Widukind, the leader of pagan resistance, was more than simply a secular nationalist or regional if not personal freedom fighter but a religious leader of some sort -- perhaps taking on some of the familiar characteristics of the traditionalist 'prophet' emerging to lead resistance to imminent Christianity.
[p. 306]