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Alkman
Monday, July 19th, 2004, 01:43 AM
The Evils of Christianization: A Pagan Perspective on European History

Michael F. Strmiska, Miyazaki International College, Japan.
Presented at Conference on Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness,
Prague, CZ, March 2002.


Any thoughtful student of history soon comes to understand that major events affecting large numbers of people can be approached and assessed from a variety of angles and perspectives. It is a durable truism that “ history is written by the victors,” with many historical accounts of previous times slanted to favor the interests of particular nations or social groups over others less privileged. In recent times, social and intellectual trends such as feminism, deconstructionism, postcolonialism and indigenous people’s movements have raised awareness of the importance of acknowledging the
voices and viewpoints of persons, groups and nations who have been ignored or devalued in history as it has been construed, constructed and promulgated by the dominant social groups of past times.
In looking at the history of religions in Europe, I am struck by the extent to which one particular viewpoint has dominated understanding and blocked critical reflection about what is arguably one of the major historical transformations in ancient and medieval times: the change of religions which took place in Europe when Christianity spread beyond the confines of the Roman Empire to replace the traditional, natureoriented religions of other parts of Europe. For lack of a better term, I will refer to these pre-Christian European religions as “ Pagan” religions or as “ Paganism.” By and large,
the transition from Paganism to Christianity has been viewed through the lens of a perspective which assumed that Christian domination over and suppression of the preexisting Pagan traditions was a natural and necessary thing.
This view of European history, grounded in the dogmatic conviction in the
intrinsic superiority of Christianity to all other religions, has a long history and venerable history in its own right, beginning with the Christian scriptures themselves. To medieval participants in this Christian-centered discourse, European civilization was one and the same as “ Christendom,” and even today, it is still commonplace to refer to Europe as the “ Christian West.” In the last 150 or so years, however, the authority of this paradigm or
metanarrative of Christian supremacy has been corroded by the general secularization of Western societies and also by Western people’s increasing contact with and knowledge of other religions from around the world.
The deflation of this metanarrative of Christian privilege has enormous
implications for the position of Christianity in relation to other religions in the
increasingly pluralistic societies of today and tomorrow, and it has equally important ramifications for how we view and interpret the past. With the paradigm of unquestioned Christian supremacy giving way to a new ideal of religious tolerance and coexistence in which religious pluralism is viewed as the norm, we have reason to look with new eyes at the topic mentioned earlier, the transition from Paganism to Christianity in Europe.
This change of religions is often characterized as the “ rise” of Christianity, but it should also be understood as the “ fall” of Pagan religions in Europe; a “ fall” which was neither a simple nor a painless process, but rather a bloody and protracted struggle.
Christianity did not simply “ rise” like a spring plant or the dawn sun; it conquered. Nor did Paganism merely “ fall” like a leaf from a branch or a fruit from a tree; it was crushed. The temples of the old religions in Europe did not simply collapse because of old age and dilapidation; they were torn down by the Christians and in some cases, recycled as building materials for the construction of Christian churches.
In many areas, the adherents of the Pagan religions fought tenaciously to preserve their ancestral traditions, even if their struggles were ultimately in vain, and their traditions so thoroughly eradicated that only the most fragmentary traces were to remain.
Clearly, there were, and are, two sides to this story, but we usually only hear one side,that which celebrates the victory of Christianity. What would we hear were we to listen to the other side, to the voices of the Pagans who suffered loss, defeat and erasure? What would we find were we to seek to discover these past peoples and their religions rather than to dismiss them?
I believe that the most basic and perhaps most important lesson that comes from such research and contemplation is the realization that there was religious pluralism in medieval Europe one thousand years ago; a lively clash of competing Pagan and Christian religious cultures. In the terms of the Russian theorist Bakhtin, there was religious heteroglossia, religious dialogue.1 This religious dialogue ended with the victory of the culture of Christian monologue and monologic, but this monologue never succeeded entirely in eradicating all traces of the Paganism of the past, which lived on in
folklore, in popular customs and celebrations, and even entered into Christianity itself,with Pagan gods made over into Christian saints or reviled as forms of the Christian devil, and holy days reinterpreted as feast days for Christian saints. Realizing that Pagan religion represented another distinct dimension of European life, both before, during and after Christianization opens the way to a more nuanced and multi-dimensional understanding of European history and culture. Realizing that the forces of Christianization were continually striving to impose religious uniformity and erase even
the memory of religious dialogue and pluralism contains important food for thought in our contemporary world situation, as I will reflect upon in the conclusion.
In the following brief case-studies, examining first, the role of Emperor
Charlemagne, and second that of the Vikings in the religious conflicts between Pagans and Christians in medieval Europe, I attempt to show how examining European history from the Pagan point of view can illuminate important issues and raise valuable questions for our contemporary understanding of European history.

Alkman
Monday, July 19th, 2004, 01:57 AM
Reconsidering Charlemagne

The reign of the Frankish king and later, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne is
often viewed as one of the milestones in the establishment of European Christian civilization. In recent times, with the increasing strength of pan-European institutions in the framework of the European Union, Charlemagne is seen as an early herald of European unity. His rule is often praised as a “ Carolingian renaissance” for fostering great accomplishments in arts and learning, in partnership with the institutions of the Christian church. There are, however, other dimensions of Charlemagne’s reign which are less often discussed, because they do not fit well with the pleasing image of a wise,
benevolent monarch in whose name religion and culture flourished.
Consider Charlemagne’s war against the Saxons. This was a series of fierce
conflicts from 772 to 804, for some 32 years, with numerous treaties and truces that inevitably gave way to further battle. In the biography of Charlemagne produced by the court official Einhard in about the year 830,it is stated that the war was undertaken by Charlemagne to put an end to the incessant raiding and other misdeeds of the Saxons on the borderlands of the Frankish kingdom. Einhard would therefore have us believe that
this was a purely defensive war, but it is obvious that Charlemagne had territorial ambitions that were far more imperial than defensive.
Einhard also informs us that Charlemagne was dead set on the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity. He notes at one point that “ the war could have been brought to a more rapid conclusion, had it not been for the faithlessness of the Saxons.” According to Einhard, the Saxons’ continuing refusal to fully accept the Christian religion and, in Einhard’s phrase, “ abandon their devil worship,” was the main factor prolonging the state
of war. From Einhard’s Christian-privileging perspective, the Saxons were stubborn, deceitful infidels, whose unchristian ways fully justified the use of massive force against them.
However, if we consider the situation from the point of view of the Pagan Saxons, it takes on a quite different aspect. From this perspective, the Franks, and especially their king Charles, were warrior-fanatics with a relentless desire to impose their religion on the Saxons. Whatever else might be said against the Saxons, there is no indication that they were trying to force their religion on the Franks. If we take seriously that the Saxons had
their own religious traditions which they were trying to preserve from the Frankish onslaught, then their sustained refusal to accept a foreign religion being imposed on them by force takes on a very different aspect from that suggested by Einhard. It is not stubbornness or deceit, but steadfast piety and the willingness to give their lives to defend their own faith.
From the Pagan perspective, there is also reason to be skeptical of Einhard’s
insistence that the Franks’ war against the Saxons was merely a necessary response to Saxon banditry and raiding. Though this was an age rife with such behavior, there are other factors to consider. Long before the onset of Charlemagne’s campaigns against the Saxons, Christian missionaries had become active in the lands of the Saxons and other Germanic peoples. When gentle methods such as preaching and reasoning failed to convince Germanic Pagans to abandon their ancestral traditions, these missionaries often resorted to more forceful methods. The Anglo-Saxon missionary Boniface chopped down a sacred oak tree in the village of Geimar, in the region of Hessia, in order to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian god to the Pagan god associated with the oak.After this act of destruction, Boniface confiscated the wood from the fallen sacred oak to use in
building Christian churches, as if to add insult to injury.Such desecration and destruction of Pagan sacred sites and objects became an accepted missionary practice in this period, one which Charlemagne himself used to
inaugurate his hostilities against the Saxons. This happened in 872, when Charlemagne’s army invaded a Saxon town on the river Drimel and hacked to pieces a sacred wooden pillar, apparently a decorated tree-trunk, known as the Irminsul, which was highly venerated in the religious observances of the Saxons as a representation of the worldtree. 8 With this attack on one of the holiest Saxons sites, Charlemagne left no doubt as to his intention to use military force to obliterate the Saxons’ religion, as well as to conquer
their lands. Charlemagne’s destruction of the world-tree proved to be an apt metaphor for his wholesale devastation of Saxon people, property, society and culture over the next 32 years. This attack on highly sacred sites and objects must have aroused the most powerful feelings of shock and outrage among the Saxons and possibly other Pagan peoples as well, perhaps not unlike the recent attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
Christian sources such as saints’ lives and missionary correspondence routinely claim that such acts of destruction were highly successful in gaining converts to Christianity.This supposed success is explained with rather curious logic. The missionaries believed that their ability to destroy Pagan objects without incurring the wrath of the Pagan deities proved the nonexistence of the Pagan gods and, by extension, the total absurdity of the religion. These authors never ask themselves whether the same
might not apply to their own religion, that is, if the merits of the Christian faith would be disproven by God’s refusal to forcefully respond to the burning down of a church or the cutting in half of a crucifix.At any rate, the same sources which boast of missionary successes through such acts of religious terrorism as the Irminsul destruction cannot hide the facts of massive
retaliation by the Saxons and other peoples when their sacred traditions were threatened by Christian attacks. The Saxons repeatedly attacked and burned Christian churches;often carrying off their treasures in much the same way as Boniface had carted away the wood from the sacred oak at Geismar. In a letter of 755 to Pope Stephen III, Boniface apologizes for a delay in writing because he has been busy restoring 30 churches plundered and burned by Pagan rebels. Above all, the bare fact that Charlemagne’s
destruction of the Irminsul ushered in thirty-odd years of warfare before the Saxons would surrender to Charlemagne and accept the religion of the Franks underlines that such actions were as likely to incite resistance as win converts.
Although one would expect 32 years of war and destruction to produce an
abundance of violence and bloodshed, there is one particular action of Charlemagne’s which stands out for its excessive cruelty. On one horrific day in 782, Charlemagne had more than 4,000 Saxons beheaded for rebelling against Frankish rule and resuming the practice of their traditional Pagan religion, after having previously signed a treaty agreeing to accept Christianity and Frankish domination.
Such harsh measures did not end with the final surrender of the Saxons in 804.Charlemagne imposed stringent conditions of surrender upon the Saxons that prescribed capital punishment for a wide range of offenses, including many which were religious in nature. Anyone who stole from a church, ate meat during the Christian fast of Lent,remained a Pagan and refused to undergo baptism, or engaged in a conspiracy of Pagans against Christians was to receive the death penalty. At the same time, Saxons were required to provide labor, food and other support to churches and priests. Looking at this
from the Christian point of view, there is some discomfort at the harshness of the measures employed by Charlemagne, but there is no doubt about the rightness of his ultimate goal, the Christianization of the Saxons as part of the larger project of uniting Europe in a Christian empire.
Charlemagne’s cruelty and intolerance in the war against the Saxons have never detracted from his popular image as a wise and benevolent sovereign. Such actions also appear to cause no concern to those people in the present day who see Charlemagne as an attractive symbol of European unity. If we take the Pagan point of view, however,Charlemagne appears to be the exemplar of nothing so much as religious intolerance,persecution and imperialism, the forefather not of European unity, but of some of the
most problematic and shameful tendencies in European history. Charlemagne’s war against the Saxons set the tone for such highpoints of European civilization as the Crusades and the Inquisition, and paved the way for the religious wars, persecutions and pogroms of the future.
From the Pagan point of view, we can ask what might have happened if
Charlemagne had chosen a different path. What if he had pursued a policy of religious tolerance instead of religious persecution? What if he had offered the Saxons the option to join his empire without giving up their ancestral traditions? Perhaps 32 years of war could have been avoided, and the stage set for a European civilization of tolerance and pluralism, rather than one of intolerance and fanaticism. If Charlemagne had chosen a different path, perhaps he really would be an appropriate hero and symbol for our time.

Alkman
Monday, July 19th, 2004, 02:48 AM
Revisiting the Vikings

If the popular view of Charlemagne has benefited from a rosy-tinted treatment at the hands of Christian-privileging historians, then the seafaring Scandinavians of the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries who we know as Vikings might be said to suffer from the reverse problem: an historical image as bloody, greedy, rapacious monsters with only the most primitive culture and religion. This highly negative portrait of the Vikings, based largely on the writings of medieval Christian authors, has been undergoing substantial revision in recent years, mainly due to the mounting body of archaeological
research showing that the Vikings were builders and traders as well as destroyers and raiders. No one would deny that the Vikings were capable of great violence and savagery, but we now can see quite clearly that the Vikings were also very often occupied in peaceful and productive pursuits.
One of the reasons why such a diabolical reputation attached to the Vikings for such a long time is that they obviously had a terrible sense of public relations. In medieval times no less than our own, any leader or group of people who wished to be loved and well-regarded needed to take great pains to gain the favor of the writers of authoritative historical records and propagators of public opinion. The Viking leaders were very good at this within their own communities, heaping honors and treasures on poets and bards who literally sang their praises. Icelandic literature contains many
examples of such praise-poetry, celebrating the valiant careers of chieftains and kings from Viking times and still earlier ages. From tapestry fragments in graves, we can surmise that decorative art probably served a similar function among the elite classes.
However, when the Vikings went abroad, they did not merely fail to properly flatter and bribe the people in a position to influence their reputations; they raided, robbed and sometimes killed them, thus motivating these opinion-makers and record-keepers to inscribe onto the pages of history as dark a portrait of the Vikings as possible. That is to say, medieval historical records were mainly written by Christian monks and priests, and so, when the Vikings repeatedly attacked and pillaged Christian monasteries and churches, they ensured that they would be remembered as monsters, murderers and
infidels.
For the Christian chroniclers, it was not only the Vikings’ violence and greed
which inspired their revulsion toward the Northmen, but also the fact that the Vikings were non-Christians, worshipping gods and practicing traditions totally loathsome to the Christians. From the Christian point of view, the Pagan Vikings not only behaved like devils, but worshipped them as well.
The Christian portrait of the savage, demonic Vikings is coherent and unified. It is however quite one-sided, as it only tells us of the Vikings as they behaved in acts of aggression executed against foreign lands and peoples. It does not give any account of the society or lifestyle of the Vikings in their native lands. In this way, the historical image of the Vikings is almost the perfect opposite of that of Charlemagne and the Carolingian kingdom. Where Charlemagne’s acts of cruelty and savagery toward the Saxons and other peoples were minimized and rationalized by situating them in the background of his more positive achievements in supporting church-based arts and
culture in the Frankish kingdom, the Vikings’ violence and destructiveness in raiding and attacking Christian lands were magnified by the absence of any information about any other aspects of their lives and culture.
From the Pagan point of view, we find reason to praise and celebrate the Vikings,not for their undeniable acts of savagery, but for their ingenuity, their arts and literature,and above all, their defense of their ancestral religious traditions against the rising tide of Christianization sweeping north towards Scandinavia. Their attacks on Christian institutions, usually seen as nothing more than missions of plunder, may be viewed as counter attacks against the aggressive growth of Christianity. This comes into sharper focus if we compare the chronology of Viking activities with important events in Christian expansion. The first Viking attack on a major Christian institution was the
attack on the British monastery of Lindisfarne in 793, contemporary with the Frankish war against the Saxons; eleven years after Charlemagne’s mass beheading of Saxon Pagans and some twenty one years after his attack on the Saxon temple containing the sacred oak pillar the Irminsul. Though Lindisfarne was not part of the Frankish kingdom, the Northmen were very likely well aware that many Christian missionaries came to the continent from Britain, and so an assault on a major British Christian site might have been thought a way of striking at the source of the aggressive religion displacing
Paganism. The fact that Lindisfarne was relatively unprotected and vulnerable
undoubtedly added to its attractiveness as a target.
The motivations for Viking raids on churches and monasteries have been debated for many years, and the recent trend has been to emphasize the economic dimension, reasoning that the main motivation for attacking Christian sites could only have been to acquire the gold and other valuables which these houses of God contained. In suggesting a possible religious dimension to Viking assaults on Christian institutions, I do not mean to dispute the obvious profit motive, merely to assert that there were very
likely a number of different and overlapping motivations and purposes. As churches and monasteries were the repositories of great wealth along with being centers of religious and political authority, Viking raids on these places no doubt enabled the simultaneous fulfillment of a wide range of possible objectives: military, political and religious, as well as economic. The same could be said of the Frankish assault on Pagan temples and sanctuaries in Saxony and elsewhere, as such Pagan sites often possessed wealth which
Christian attackers would not hesitate to carry off.
If we take the Vikings seriously, and do not simply dismiss them as savage,
rapacious brutes, I think we can dare to pose the question of whether the various raiding and military activities of the Viking might not represent a progressively larger-scale and better organized Pagan counterattack against Christian, and particularly Frankish,expansion and imperialism. Just as the Franks went from small-scale attacks on Saxon border areas to large-scale conquest and colonization, so did the Vikings progress from hit-and-run raids on coastal sites like Lindisfarne in the late eighth century to mass invasion and colonization of England, Scotland, Ireland and other areas in the ninth
century and beyond. It is to be noted that invading Vikings were often able to come to terms with local political authorities, but continued to devastate Christian institutions. For example, when the so-called “ Great Army” of Danish Vikings conquered the English kingdoms of East Anglia and Northumbria between 865 and 867, they quickly reached an accommodation with the local people and their rulers, but brutally ravaged the Whitby monastery.In such an instance, it would seem that the Vikings had a special grudge against the Christians.
The hypothesis of Viking activities as Pagan retaliation to Christian and Frankish expansion finds further support in the cultural sphere. Between the eighth and eleventh centuries, there was an impressive flowering of Pagan art and literature in Northern Europe, what we might describe as a Viking renaissance, roughly contemporary, and perhaps self-consciously competitive with the cultural resurgence sponsored by the court of Charlemagne, the so-called Carolingian renaissance. Many of the documents that we rely upon as source-materials for Nordic religion and mythology were first composed in
this era, though our surviving texts come from several hundred years later.The theme of Valhalla, the afterlife paradise, ruled by Odin, the god of war, poetry and wisdom, where warriors feast and fight in preparation for a final, apocalyptic battle, is prominent on the famous runestone and picturestone memorials of the Baltic Sea island of Gotland from the 8th through the 11th centuries and in skaldic poetry of the 10th century.
Contemporary royal tombs from Denmark and Norway, constructed on an impressive scale and luxuriously equipped with exquisitely carved and crafted objects, express a confident expectation of a joyful afterlife, a Pagan counterpoint to the proud monuments to the Christian faith being raised in the Frankish lands. The surrounding of these majestic Nordic royal tombs by lesser graves containing warriors buried with weapons, riding gear, and even horses, may echo the myth of Odin and his warriors dwelling together in the afterlife paradise of Valhalla. One thing we can be sure of is that the
Vikings did not view themselves as infidels or monsters. They had their own refined traditions, of which they were quite proud, all of which were threatened by the expansion of Christian hegemony in Northern Europe.
When we view all of the artistic, cultural and religious expressions of the Viking era together, we see a confident Pagan culture possessing great vitality, originality and refinement rooted in a religious tradition with a rich and imaginative mythology. In our time, there is increasing appreciation for Viking artistry and culture, but this recognition was long delayed by the tendency to focus on the savagery of the Vikings to the exclusion of these other more positive aspects. It is only with the deflation of the grand narrative of Christian supremacy, and in particular, the notion that European civilization is one and the same as European Christianity, that we become able to better appreciateViking culture and other Pagan aspects of European history.
To close the discussion of the Vikings, let me again ask, as I did in regards to
Charlemagne, what if. What if the Vikings had not converted to Christianity? What effect would this have had on European history? From the Christian point of view, this wouldseem a nightmarish prospect. The Viking religion is associated with idolatry and sacrifice, including human sacrifice; far better to be done with it. Such a perspective, however, overlooks the important point that all religions change and develop over time.
Just as Christianity has become more peaceful and tolerant over the centuries, refined and reformed through generation after generation of scholarship and theology, not to mention internal conflicts and upheavals, could not the same have happened, with the Pagan religion of the Vikings or other peoples, if they had been given the chance? We know that Hinduism, the majority religion of India, was long ago a religion of animal sacrifice with cattle as a favorite sacrificial victim. Over time, and with the influence of
new religious ideas, such animal sacrifice fell out of favor, and vegetarianism became established as a moral imperative, with cows as a special category of sacred animals protected from harm. Could not a similar process of evolution and refinement have taken place with the Pagan religion of the Vikings? The answer cannot be known, because the Christianization of all Scandinavia closed the book on any further development of Norse Paganism. Scattered pieces of information about Viking-era culture and society do however suggest that the Vikings were capable of accepting Christianity within their
communities, so long as Christians did not seek to undermine native Pagan traditions.
Iceland, for example, was settled by both Pagans and Christians, and the two religions coexisted in relative peace for more than a century. As I see it, the Vikings did not hate Christianity per se; they attacked Christianity where it was perceived as part of a larger threat. Or to put it another way, they became aggressive against Christians in response to the Christian aggression of Charlemagne and others.
In archaeological remains as well as Old Icelandic literature, we find a good deal of evidence of Christian-Pagan syncretism which suggests that the Vikings were capable of combining Christianity with their own native traditions. If Christian authorities had been willing to tolerate a more flexible kind of Christianity, a distinctive Nordic blend of Christianity and Paganism could have developed which might have served as a bridge between the two religious traditions and ameliorated conflicts between them. This was
not to be. The powerful Christian authority structures of medieval Europe were only interested in one kind of relationship with other forms of religion: the total destruction of these religions and the Christianization of all peoples, by force if necessary. Only now are we beginning to realize how much was lost as a result of that harsh policy of intolerance.
Conclusions
Today, the leaders of Europe and other highly developed regions have embraced the ideal of multiculturalism and pluralism, at least in rhetoric. This includes tolerance for other religions, not merely the various forms of Christianity that for so many centuries dominated the cultural life of Europe. I believe that if this 21st century experiment in pluralism and tolerance is to succeed, the history of Europe needs to be re-written to include the perspectives of the non-Christian peoples of the European past, and to
examine the processes by which ancient Pagan religions were wiped off the European map. If we accept the proposition that religious intolerance is a dangerous evil that has o place in the modern world, let us understand full well that it was just as dangerous,and just as evil, for the peoples of the past.

Alkman
Friday, July 7th, 2006, 12:47 PM
The Evils of Christianization: A Pagan Perspective on European History

Michael F. Strmiska, Miyazaki International College, Japan.
Presented at Conference on Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness,
Prague, CZ, March 2002.


Any thoughtful student of history soon comes to understand that major events affecting large numbers of people can be approached and assessed from a variety of angles and perspectives. It is a durable truism that “ history is written by the victors,” with many historical accounts of previous times slanted to favor the interests of particular nations or social groups over others less privileged. In recent times, social and intellectual trends such as feminism, deconstructionism, postcolonialism and indigenous people’s movements have raised awareness of the importance of acknowledging the
voices and viewpoints of persons, groups and nations who have been ignored or devalued in history as it has been construed, constructed and promulgated by the dominant social groups of past times.
In looking at the history of religions in Europe, I am struck by the extent to which one particular viewpoint has dominated understanding and blocked critical reflection about what is arguably one of the major historical transformations in ancient and medieval times: the change of religions which took place in Europe when Christianity spread beyond the confines of the Roman Empire to replace the traditional, natureoriented religions of other parts of Europe. For lack of a better term, I will refer to these pre-Christian European religions as “ Pagan” religions or as “ Paganism.” By and large,
the transition from Paganism to Christianity has been viewed through the lens of a perspective which assumed that Christian domination over and suppression of the preexisting Pagan traditions was a natural and necessary thing.
This view of European history, grounded in the dogmatic conviction in the
intrinsic superiority of Christianity to all other religions, has a long history and venerable history in its own right, beginning with the Christian scriptures themselves. To medieval participants in this Christian-centered discourse, European civilization was one and the same as “ Christendom,” and even today, it is still commonplace to refer to Europe as the “ Christian West.” In the last 150 or so years, however, the authority of this paradigm or
metanarrative of Christian supremacy has been corroded by the general secularization of Western societies and also by Western people’s increasing contact with and knowledge of other religions from around the world.
The deflation of this metanarrative of Christian privilege has enormous
implications for the position of Christianity in relation to other religions in the
increasingly pluralistic societies of today and tomorrow, and it has equally important ramifications for how we view and interpret the past. With the paradigm of unquestioned Christian supremacy giving way to a new ideal of religious tolerance and coexistence in which religious pluralism is viewed as the norm, we have reason to look with new eyes at the topic mentioned earlier, the transition from Paganism to Christianity in Europe.
This change of religions is often characterized as the “ rise” of Christianity, but it should also be understood as the “ fall” of Pagan religions in Europe; a “ fall” which was neither a simple nor a painless process, but rather a bloody and protracted struggle.
Christianity did not simply “ rise” like a spring plant or the dawn sun; it conquered. Nor did Paganism merely “ fall” like a leaf from a branch or a fruit from a tree; it was crushed. The temples of the old religions in Europe did not simply collapse because of old age and dilapidation; they were torn down by the Christians and in some cases, recycled as building materials for the construction of Christian churches.
In many areas, the adherents of the Pagan religions fought tenaciously to preserve their ancestral traditions, even if their struggles were ultimately in vain, and their traditions so thoroughly eradicated that only the most fragmentary traces were to remain.
Clearly, there were, and are, two sides to this story, but we usually only hear one side,that which celebrates the victory of Christianity. What would we hear were we to listen to the other side, to the voices of the Pagans who suffered loss, defeat and erasure? What would we find were we to seek to discover these past peoples and their religions rather than to dismiss them?
I believe that the most basic and perhaps most important lesson that comes from such research and contemplation is the realization that there was religious pluralism in medieval Europe one thousand years ago; a lively clash of competing Pagan and Christian religious cultures. In the terms of the Russian theorist Bakhtin, there was religious heteroglossia, religious dialogue.1 This religious dialogue ended with the victory of the culture of Christian monologue and monologic, but this monologue never succeeded entirely in eradicating all traces of the Paganism of the past, which lived on in
folklore, in popular customs and celebrations, and even entered into Christianity itself,with Pagan gods made over into Christian saints or reviled as forms of the Christian devil, and holy days reinterpreted as feast days for Christian saints. Realizing that Pagan religion represented another distinct dimension of European life, both before, during and after Christianization opens the way to a more nuanced and multi-dimensional understanding of European history and culture. Realizing that the forces of Christianization were continually striving to impose religious uniformity and erase even
the memory of religious dialogue and pluralism contains important food for thought in our contemporary world situation, as I will reflect upon in the conclusion.
In the following brief case-studies, examining first, the role of Emperor
Charlemagne, and second that of the Vikings in the religious conflicts between Pagans and Christians in medieval Europe, I attempt to show how examining European history from the Pagan point of view can illuminate important issues and raise valuable questions for our contemporary understanding of European history.

Alkman
Friday, July 7th, 2006, 12:48 PM
Reconsidering Charlemagne

The reign of the Frankish king and later, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne is
often viewed as one of the milestones in the establishment of European Christian civilization. In recent times, with the increasing strength of pan-European institutions in the framework of the European Union, Charlemagne is seen as an early herald of European unity. His rule is often praised as a “ Carolingian renaissance” for fostering great accomplishments in arts and learning, in partnership with the institutions of the Christian church. There are, however, other dimensions of Charlemagne’s reign which are less often discussed, because they do not fit well with the pleasing image of a wise,
benevolent monarch in whose name religion and culture flourished.
Consider Charlemagne’s war against the Saxons. This was a series of fierce
conflicts from 772 to 804, for some 32 years, with numerous treaties and truces that inevitably gave way to further battle. In the biography of Charlemagne produced by the court official Einhard in about the year 830,it is stated that the war was undertaken by Charlemagne to put an end to the incessant raiding and other misdeeds of the Saxons on the borderlands of the Frankish kingdom. Einhard would therefore have us believe that
this was a purely defensive war, but it is obvious that Charlemagne had territorial ambitions that were far more imperial than defensive.
Einhard also informs us that Charlemagne was dead set on the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity. He notes at one point that “ the war could have been brought to a more rapid conclusion, had it not been for the faithlessness of the Saxons.” According to Einhard, the Saxons’ continuing refusal to fully accept the Christian religion and, in Einhard’s phrase, “ abandon their devil worship,” was the main factor prolonging the state
of war. From Einhard’s Christian-privileging perspective, the Saxons were stubborn, deceitful infidels, whose unchristian ways fully justified the use of massive force against them.
However, if we consider the situation from the point of view of the Pagan Saxons, it takes on a quite different aspect. From this perspective, the Franks, and especially their king Charles, were warrior-fanatics with a relentless desire to impose their religion on the Saxons. Whatever else might be said against the Saxons, there is no indication that they were trying to force their religion on the Franks. If we take seriously that the Saxons had
their own religious traditions which they were trying to preserve from the Frankish onslaught, then their sustained refusal to accept a foreign religion being imposed on them by force takes on a very different aspect from that suggested by Einhard. It is not stubbornness or deceit, but steadfast piety and the willingness to give their lives to defend their own faith.
From the Pagan perspective, there is also reason to be skeptical of Einhard’s
insistence that the Franks’ war against the Saxons was merely a necessary response to Saxon banditry and raiding. Though this was an age rife with such behavior, there are other factors to consider. Long before the onset of Charlemagne’s campaigns against the Saxons, Christian missionaries had become active in the lands of the Saxons and other Germanic peoples. When gentle methods such as preaching and reasoning failed to convince Germanic Pagans to abandon their ancestral traditions, these missionaries often resorted to more forceful methods. The Anglo-Saxon missionary Boniface chopped down a sacred oak tree in the village of Geimar, in the region of Hessia, in order to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian god to the Pagan god associated with the oak.After this act of destruction, Boniface confiscated the wood from the fallen sacred oak to use in
building Christian churches, as if to add insult to injury.Such desecration and destruction of Pagan sacred sites and objects became an accepted missionary practice in this period, one which Charlemagne himself used to
inaugurate his hostilities against the Saxons. This happened in 872, when Charlemagne’s army invaded a Saxon town on the river Drimel and hacked to pieces a sacred wooden pillar, apparently a decorated tree-trunk, known as the Irminsul, which was highly venerated in the religious observances of the Saxons as a representation of the worldtree. 8 With this attack on one of the holiest Saxons sites, Charlemagne left no doubt as to his intention to use military force to obliterate the Saxons’ religion, as well as to conquer
their lands. Charlemagne’s destruction of the world-tree proved to be an apt metaphor for his wholesale devastation of Saxon people, property, society and culture over the next 32 years. This attack on highly sacred sites and objects must have aroused the most powerful feelings of shock and outrage among the Saxons and possibly other Pagan peoples as well, perhaps not unlike the recent attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
Christian sources such as saints’ lives and missionary correspondence routinely claim that such acts of destruction were highly successful in gaining converts to Christianity.This supposed success is explained with rather curious logic. The missionaries believed that their ability to destroy Pagan objects without incurring the wrath of the Pagan deities proved the nonexistence of the Pagan gods and, by extension, the total absurdity of the religion. These authors never ask themselves whether the same
might not apply to their own religion, that is, if the merits of the Christian faith would be disproven by God’s refusal to forcefully respond to the burning down of a church or the cutting in half of a crucifix.At any rate, the same sources which boast of missionary successes through such acts of religious terrorism as the Irminsul destruction cannot hide the facts of massive
retaliation by the Saxons and other peoples when their sacred traditions were threatened by Christian attacks. The Saxons repeatedly attacked and burned Christian churches;often carrying off their treasures in much the same way as Boniface had carted away the wood from the sacred oak at Geismar. In a letter of 755 to Pope Stephen III, Boniface apologizes for a delay in writing because he has been busy restoring 30 churches plundered and burned by Pagan rebels. Above all, the bare fact that Charlemagne’s
destruction of the Irminsul ushered in thirty-odd years of warfare before the Saxons would surrender to Charlemagne and accept the religion of the Franks underlines that such actions were as likely to incite resistance as win converts.
Although one would expect 32 years of war and destruction to produce an
abundance of violence and bloodshed, there is one particular action of Charlemagne’s which stands out for its excessive cruelty. On one horrific day in 782, Charlemagne had more than 4,000 Saxons beheaded for rebelling against Frankish rule and resuming the practice of their traditional Pagan religion, after having previously signed a treaty agreeing to accept Christianity and Frankish domination.
Such harsh measures did not end with the final surrender of the Saxons in 804.Charlemagne imposed stringent conditions of surrender upon the Saxons that prescribed capital punishment for a wide range of offenses, including many which were religious in nature. Anyone who stole from a church, ate meat during the Christian fast of Lent,remained a Pagan and refused to undergo baptism, or engaged in a conspiracy of Pagans against Christians was to receive the death penalty. At the same time, Saxons were required to provide labor, food and other support to churches and priests. Looking at this
from the Christian point of view, there is some discomfort at the harshness of the measures employed by Charlemagne, but there is no doubt about the rightness of his ultimate goal, the Christianization of the Saxons as part of the larger project of uniting Europe in a Christian empire.
Charlemagne’s cruelty and intolerance in the war against the Saxons have never detracted from his popular image as a wise and benevolent sovereign. Such actions also appear to cause no concern to those people in the present day who see Charlemagne as an attractive symbol of European unity. If we take the Pagan point of view, however,Charlemagne appears to be the exemplar of nothing so much as religious intolerance,persecution and imperialism, the forefather not of European unity, but of some of the
most problematic and shameful tendencies in European history. Charlemagne’s war against the Saxons set the tone for such highpoints of European civilization as the Crusades and the Inquisition, and paved the way for the religious wars, persecutions and pogroms of the future.
From the Pagan point of view, we can ask what might have happened if
Charlemagne had chosen a different path. What if he had pursued a policy of religious tolerance instead of religious persecution? What if he had offered the Saxons the option to join his empire without giving up their ancestral traditions? Perhaps 32 years of war could have been avoided, and the stage set for a European civilization of tolerance and pluralism, rather than one of intolerance and fanaticism. If Charlemagne had chosen a different path, perhaps he really would be an appropriate hero and symbol for our time.

Alkman
Friday, July 7th, 2006, 12:49 PM
Revisiting the Vikings

If the popular view of Charlemagne has benefited from a rosy-tinted treatment at the hands of Christian-privileging historians, then the seafaring Scandinavians of the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries who we know as Vikings might be said to suffer from the reverse problem: an historical image as bloody, greedy, rapacious monsters with only the most primitive culture and religion. This highly negative portrait of the Vikings, based largely on the writings of medieval Christian authors, has been undergoing substantial revision in recent years, mainly due to the mounting body of archaeological
research showing that the Vikings were builders and traders as well as destroyers and raiders. No one would deny that the Vikings were capable of great violence and savagery, but we now can see quite clearly that the Vikings were also very often occupied in peaceful and productive pursuits.
One of the reasons why such a diabolical reputation attached to the Vikings for such a long time is that they obviously had a terrible sense of public relations. In medieval times no less than our own, any leader or group of people who wished to be loved and well-regarded needed to take great pains to gain the favor of the writers of authoritative historical records and propagators of public opinion. The Viking leaders were very good at this within their own communities, heaping honors and treasures on poets and bards who literally sang their praises. Icelandic literature contains many
examples of such praise-poetry, celebrating the valiant careers of chieftains and kings from Viking times and still earlier ages. From tapestry fragments in graves, we can surmise that decorative art probably served a similar function among the elite classes.
However, when the Vikings went abroad, they did not merely fail to properly flatter and bribe the people in a position to influence their reputations; they raided, robbed and sometimes killed them, thus motivating these opinion-makers and record-keepers to inscribe onto the pages of history as dark a portrait of the Vikings as possible. That is to say, medieval historical records were mainly written by Christian monks and priests, and so, when the Vikings repeatedly attacked and pillaged Christian monasteries and churches, they ensured that they would be remembered as monsters, murderers and
infidels.
For the Christian chroniclers, it was not only the Vikings’ violence and greed
which inspired their revulsion toward the Northmen, but also the fact that the Vikings were non-Christians, worshipping gods and practicing traditions totally loathsome to the Christians. From the Christian point of view, the Pagan Vikings not only behaved like devils, but worshipped them as well.
The Christian portrait of the savage, demonic Vikings is coherent and unified. It is however quite one-sided, as it only tells us of the Vikings as they behaved in acts of aggression executed against foreign lands and peoples. It does not give any account of the society or lifestyle of the Vikings in their native lands. In this way, the historical image of the Vikings is almost the perfect opposite of that of Charlemagne and the Carolingian kingdom. Where Charlemagne’s acts of cruelty and savagery toward the Saxons and other peoples were minimized and rationalized by situating them in the background of his more positive achievements in supporting church-based arts and
culture in the Frankish kingdom, the Vikings’ violence and destructiveness in raiding and attacking Christian lands were magnified by the absence of any information about any other aspects of their lives and culture.
From the Pagan point of view, we find reason to praise and celebrate the Vikings,not for their undeniable acts of savagery, but for their ingenuity, their arts and literature,and above all, their defense of their ancestral religious traditions against the rising tide of Christianization sweeping north towards Scandinavia. Their attacks on Christian institutions, usually seen as nothing more than missions of plunder, may be viewed as counter attacks against the aggressive growth of Christianity. This comes into sharper focus if we compare the chronology of Viking activities with important events in Christian expansion. The first Viking attack on a major Christian institution was the
attack on the British monastery of Lindisfarne in 793, contemporary with the Frankish war against the Saxons; eleven years after Charlemagne’s mass beheading of Saxon Pagans and some twenty one years after his attack on the Saxon temple containing the sacred oak pillar the Irminsul. Though Lindisfarne was not part of the Frankish kingdom, the Northmen were very likely well aware that many Christian missionaries came to the continent from Britain, and so an assault on a major British Christian site might have been thought a way of striking at the source of the aggressive religion displacing
Paganism. The fact that Lindisfarne was relatively unprotected and vulnerable
undoubtedly added to its attractiveness as a target.
The motivations for Viking raids on churches and monasteries have been debated for many years, and the recent trend has been to emphasize the economic dimension, reasoning that the main motivation for attacking Christian sites could only have been to acquire the gold and other valuables which these houses of God contained. In suggesting a possible religious dimension to Viking assaults on Christian institutions, I do not mean to dispute the obvious profit motive, merely to assert that there were very
likely a number of different and overlapping motivations and purposes. As churches and monasteries were the repositories of great wealth along with being centers of religious and political authority, Viking raids on these places no doubt enabled the simultaneous fulfillment of a wide range of possible objectives: military, political and religious, as well as economic. The same could be said of the Frankish assault on Pagan temples and sanctuaries in Saxony and elsewhere, as such Pagan sites often possessed wealth which
Christian attackers would not hesitate to carry off.
If we take the Vikings seriously, and do not simply dismiss them as savage,
rapacious brutes, I think we can dare to pose the question of whether the various raiding and military activities of the Viking might not represent a progressively larger-scale and better organized Pagan counterattack against Christian, and particularly Frankish,expansion and imperialism. Just as the Franks went from small-scale attacks on Saxon border areas to large-scale conquest and colonization, so did the Vikings progress from hit-and-run raids on coastal sites like Lindisfarne in the late eighth century to mass invasion and colonization of England, Scotland, Ireland and other areas in the ninth
century and beyond. It is to be noted that invading Vikings were often able to come to terms with local political authorities, but continued to devastate Christian institutions. For example, when the so-called “ Great Army” of Danish Vikings conquered the English kingdoms of East Anglia and Northumbria between 865 and 867, they quickly reached an accommodation with the local people and their rulers, but brutally ravaged the Whitby monastery.In such an instance, it would seem that the Vikings had a special grudge against the Christians.
The hypothesis of Viking activities as Pagan retaliation to Christian and Frankish expansion finds further support in the cultural sphere. Between the eighth and eleventh centuries, there was an impressive flowering of Pagan art and literature in Northern Europe, what we might describe as a Viking renaissance, roughly contemporary, and perhaps self-consciously competitive with the cultural resurgence sponsored by the court of Charlemagne, the so-called Carolingian renaissance. Many of the documents that we rely upon as source-materials for Nordic religion and mythology were first composed in
this era, though our surviving texts come from several hundred years later.The theme of Valhalla, the afterlife paradise, ruled by Odin, the god of war, poetry and wisdom, where warriors feast and fight in preparation for a final, apocalyptic battle, is prominent on the famous runestone and picturestone memorials of the Baltic Sea island of Gotland from the 8th through the 11th centuries and in skaldic poetry of the 10th century.
Contemporary royal tombs from Denmark and Norway, constructed on an impressive scale and luxuriously equipped with exquisitely carved and crafted objects, express a confident expectation of a joyful afterlife, a Pagan counterpoint to the proud monuments to the Christian faith being raised in the Frankish lands. The surrounding of these majestic Nordic royal tombs by lesser graves containing warriors buried with weapons, riding gear, and even horses, may echo the myth of Odin and his warriors dwelling together in the afterlife paradise of Valhalla. One thing we can be sure of is that the
Vikings did not view themselves as infidels or monsters. They had their own refined traditions, of which they were quite proud, all of which were threatened by the expansion of Christian hegemony in Northern Europe.
When we view all of the artistic, cultural and religious expressions of the Viking era together, we see a confident Pagan culture possessing great vitality, originality and refinement rooted in a religious tradition with a rich and imaginative mythology. In our time, there is increasing appreciation for Viking artistry and culture, but this recognition was long delayed by the tendency to focus on the savagery of the Vikings to the exclusion of these other more positive aspects. It is only with the deflation of the grand narrative of Christian supremacy, and in particular, the notion that European civilization is one and the same as European Christianity, that we become able to better appreciateViking culture and other Pagan aspects of European history.
To close the discussion of the Vikings, let me again ask, as I did in regards to
Charlemagne, what if. What if the Vikings had not converted to Christianity? What effect would this have had on European history? From the Christian point of view, this wouldseem a nightmarish prospect. The Viking religion is associated with idolatry and sacrifice, including human sacrifice; far better to be done with it. Such a perspective, however, overlooks the important point that all religions change and develop over time.
Just as Christianity has become more peaceful and tolerant over the centuries, refined and reformed through generation after generation of scholarship and theology, not to mention internal conflicts and upheavals, could not the same have happened, with the Pagan religion of the Vikings or other peoples, if they had been given the chance? We know that Hinduism, the majority religion of India, was long ago a religion of animal sacrifice with cattle as a favorite sacrificial victim. Over time, and with the influence of
new religious ideas, such animal sacrifice fell out of favor, and vegetarianism became established as a moral imperative, with cows as a special category of sacred animals protected from harm. Could not a similar process of evolution and refinement have taken place with the Pagan religion of the Vikings? The answer cannot be known, because the Christianization of all Scandinavia closed the book on any further development of Norse Paganism. Scattered pieces of information about Viking-era culture and society do however suggest that the Vikings were capable of accepting Christianity within their
communities, so long as Christians did not seek to undermine native Pagan traditions.
Iceland, for example, was settled by both Pagans and Christians, and the two religions coexisted in relative peace for more than a century. As I see it, the Vikings did not hate Christianity per se; they attacked Christianity where it was perceived as part of a larger threat. Or to put it another way, they became aggressive against Christians in response to the Christian aggression of Charlemagne and others.
In archaeological remains as well as Old Icelandic literature, we find a good deal of evidence of Christian-Pagan syncretism which suggests that the Vikings were capable of combining Christianity with their own native traditions. If Christian authorities had been willing to tolerate a more flexible kind of Christianity, a distinctive Nordic blend of Christianity and Paganism could have developed which might have served as a bridge between the two religious traditions and ameliorated conflicts between them. This was
not to be. The powerful Christian authority structures of medieval Europe were only interested in one kind of relationship with other forms of religion: the total destruction of these religions and the Christianization of all peoples, by force if necessary. Only now are we beginning to realize how much was lost as a result of that harsh policy of intolerance.
Conclusions
Today, the leaders of Europe and other highly developed regions have embraced the ideal of multiculturalism and pluralism, at least in rhetoric. This includes tolerance for other religions, not merely the various forms of Christianity that for so many centuries dominated the cultural life of Europe. I believe that if this 21st century experiment in pluralism and tolerance is to succeed, the history of Europe needs to be re-written to include the perspectives of the non-Christian peoples of the European past, and to
examine the processes by which ancient Pagan religions were wiped off the European map. If we accept the proposition that religious intolerance is a dangerous evil that has o place in the modern world, let us understand full well that it was just as dangerous,and just as evil, for the peoples of the past.

Ælfhere
Friday, July 7th, 2006, 02:57 PM
Their attacks on Christian institutions, usually seen as nothing more than missions of plunder, may be viewed as counter attacks against the aggressive growth of Christianity. This comes into sharper focus if we compare the chronology of Viking activities with important events in Christian expansion. The first Viking attack on a major Christian institution was the attack on the British monastery of Lindisfarne in 793, contemporary with the Frankish war against the Saxons; eleven years after Charlemagne’s mass beheading of Saxon Pagans and some twenty one years after his attack on the Saxon temple containing the sacred oak pillar the Irminsul. Though Lindisfarne was not part of the Frankish kingdom, the Northmen were very likely well aware that many Christian missionaries came to the continent from Britain, and so an assault on a major British Christian site might have been thought a way of striking at the source of the aggressive religion displacing Paganism.

I wonder if the Norse assault on Lindisfarne was a counter-attack against Christian intrusion into the north? Interesting.

Gorm the Old
Friday, July 7th, 2006, 05:16 PM
Do we not see the same thing happening today with the incursions of Islam into Europe ? Will we recognize the threat in time and mount a more successful defense against it than did the Europeans of ninth century against Christianity ?.....Having failed in the Middle Ages to conquer Europe by military force, Islam is now resorting to a more insidious approach : corrupting foreign institutions by the influence of arrogant and demanding immigrants....Of course, the World Trade Center is no Irminsul , but, modern Christianity, divided by sectarian disputes, has no one religious monument of similar charisma and spiritual significance for the Muslims to destroy. Should they , however, again begin attacking Christian churches, as they have attacked Hindu temples in India, let the Muslims not forget that the Kaaba is not invulnerable.

nordicdusk
Saturday, July 8th, 2006, 12:15 PM
With the world the way it is and the views it seems to hold on the whole equallity thing i do not think that we can do anything about the muslim invasion any form of action will be condemed by goverments world wide we are in great danger as these people can just walk in and do what ever they want here but we have no rights if we tried to do it in their homelands.More and more come to Ireland everyday no one seems to care everyone thinks im a nazi because of my feelings on this matter but i dont care if they are too blind to see the destruction of their own land culture and way of life.Everything will change for the worst i can feel it happening i ca see it starting to happen already.If ony we could be like the Vikings and put a stop to this my force as the political means is getting us no where as we are told every day by our goverments that we live in better countries because of multiculturism.What a load of BULL.

Fenris_bonecrusher
Saturday, July 8th, 2006, 06:08 PM
With the world the way it is and the views it seems to hold on the whole equallity thing i do not think that we can do anything about the muslim invasion any form of action will be condemed by goverments world wide we are in great danger as these people can just walk in and do what ever they want here but we have no rights if we tried to do it in their homelands.More and more come to Ireland everyday no one seems to care everyone thinks im a nazi because of my feelings on this matter but i dont care if they are too blind to see the destruction of their own land culture and way of life.Everything will change for the worst i can feel it happening i ca see it starting to happen already.If ony we could be like the Vikings and put a stop to this my force as the political means is getting us no where as we are told every day by our goverments that we live in better countries because of multiculturism.What a load of BULL.

I can really relate to what your saying here my friend, it seems that the huge bulk of arabians migrating to europe have been slowly but steadly imposing their Islamic ways on to europe in the name of multiculturism just like the Christians did, I can sort of relate to what you said as well, because the same has been sort of happening in my country with huge groups of latinos migrating here with no invitation, and making their own incredibely ridulous protest holiday made especially for skipping school and work

Ælfhere
Saturday, July 8th, 2006, 08:17 PM
I can really relate to what your saying here my friend, it seems that the huge bulk of arabians migrating to europe have been slowly but steadly imposing their Islamic ways on to europe in the name of multiculturism just like the Christians did,

It does seem that way, considering how the Christians won over the ruling classes in Europe who then imposed the ideology onto the people. Now multiculturalism seems like the grease on the skids for the Islamization of Europe.


I can sort of relate to what you said as well, because the same has been sort of happening in my country with huge groups of latinos migrating here with no invitation, and making their own incredibely ridulous protest holiday made especially for skipping school and work

That protest did not (unfortunately for them) bring the American economy crashing down. What a pitiful attempt.

Fenris_bonecrusher
Monday, July 10th, 2006, 03:25 AM
It does seem that way, considering how the Christians won over the ruling classes in Europe who then imposed the ideology onto the people. Now multiculturalism seems like the grease on the skids for the Islamization of Europe.



That protest did not (unfortunately for them) bring the American economy crashing down. What a pitiful attempt.

HAHAHAHAHA!!! whoever would think that would make any economic difference or effect in anyway, must be an illogical villiage idiot;)

Ælfhere
Friday, May 18th, 2007, 07:29 PM
From the article:


If we take the Vikings seriously, and do not simply dismiss them as savage, rapacious brutes, I think we can dare to pose the question of whether the various raiding and military activities of the Viking might not represent a progressively larger-scale and better organized Pagan counterattack against Christian, and particularly Frankish,expansion and imperialism. Just as the Franks went from small-scale attacks on Saxon border areas to large-scale conquest and colonization, so did the Vikings progress from hit-and-run raids on coastal sites like Lindisfarne in the late eighth century to mass invasion and colonization of England, Scotland, Ireland and other areas in the ninth century and beyond. It is to be noted that invading Vikings were often able to come to terms with local political authorities, but continued to devastate Christian institutions. For example, when the so-called “ Great Army” of Danish Vikings conquered the English kingdoms of East Anglia and Northumbria between 865 and 867, they quickly reached an accommodation with the local people and their rulers, but brutally ravaged the Whitby monastery. In such an instance, it would seem that the Vikings had a special grudge against the Christians.

I've been reading another book where the author has the same theory:

"Highlanders: A History of the Gaels" by John MacLeod


But the Norsemen were, by nature, tolerant of other faiths. Christianity was in Iceland, and established by law, well before the eleventh century, when the Vikings converted wholesale to the new faith. What, then, lay behind the vicious raids on Iona, the slaighter of monks and priests, the wasting of churches, vestments, holy books? This was a reaction to another persecution - in Europe, by Charlemagne - of their own religion. The Holy Roman Emperor was determined to extirpate the Teutonic superstition. He burned temples, forced communities to convert at the point of the sword, slew the 'pagans' where he found them. In 782, after victory at Verden, he put 4,500 prisoners to death. Before then, the Vikings had taken no action against Christianity. For the next century, in the west of Scotland and elsewhere, they vented all their rage and fury on the followers of Christ, for the glory of Odin and Thor.

Edenkoben
Friday, May 18th, 2007, 08:19 PM
What the first section of Julian's OP makes clear to me is that christianity--what one can take from a reading of the "gospels" and not the later, revisionistic, more judaic stuff from Saul/Paul--is not especially acquisitive. The first christians were standing around waiting for The Second Coming--heck they didn't even need a marriage ethic (see Bertrand Russell's "Marriage and Morals" for an interesting discussion of this).

Judaism, on the other hand, does hold to this chosen people superiority: if X is one of the chosen people and Y is not, then X has the god-given right to screw Y w/out mercy; witness modern Israel, founded on this bizarre ethic, conducting espionage against the US and trying to steal passports from New Zealand.

Absent any interest in conversion from judaic superiority, we see the roots of christian intolerance, although to steal one's faith as well as to subjugate them to a foreign government is as efficient a kind of genocide as there is, and a uniquely christian one (ask the nearest American Indian about that process!!)

What is most remarkable about the three OP's is that they show very clearly a stance many of us exemplify--we don't need to or particularly want to exert superiority over other faiths, folks or families but we damn sure aren't going to submit to that of others. Our ways are literally harm-less except to extremists who hope to try to stamp us out.

Finally, for every claim of 'inferior savage' levelled against most of the tribal peoples of the world (esp. the non-christian, non-jewish, non-islamic tribal peoples) there are a dozen examples of superior ethic, superior thought, superior social structure to overwhelm what passes for much of contemporary civilization.

But an honest look at history shows that we Heathens have no crusades (as do the christians), we do not demand conversion to our faith (in fact, it's more common that we discourage this), our ethics of personal responsibility are unmatched, we don't think "what's mine is mine and we'll negotiate what you get to keep of yours" (as is common to judaic ethics) and we don't institutionally dominate and humiliate the children and women in our daily lives (as is common to islam--I'd like to see someone try to veil Frigg or Freja).

Not to mention that we've a long and happy history of being awesome brew masters:beer:

Deep thanks to Torquil for bringing Julian's posts back into the active realm; it would have taken a noob like me months to fall over them.

Rodskarl Dubhgall
Thursday, April 19th, 2018, 07:43 AM
Do we not see the same thing happening today with the incursions of Islam into Europe ? Will we recognize the threat in time and mount a more successful defense against it than did the Europeans of ninth century against Christianity ?.....Having failed in the Middle Ages to conquer Europe by military force, Islam is now resorting to a more insidious approach : corrupting foreign institutions by the influence of arrogant and demanding immigrants....Of course, the World Trade Center is no Irminsul , but, modern Christianity, divided by sectarian disputes, has no one religious monument of similar charisma and spiritual significance for the Muslims to destroy. Should they , however, again begin attacking Christian churches, as they have attacked Hindu temples in India, let the Muslims not forget that the Kaaba is not invulnerable.
I'm determined not to be a patsy for Europe again. Our viking ancestors decided to play the European game and fight the Mohammedans for them, while otherwise being singled out as the evil within. Two waves of Germanic invasions, one of classical Rome, then the HRE, were sparked by invasions by Rome into the North. I don't mind a parallel existence, but I resist double-dealing Greco-Romans. Brexit Forever!