Presentation on theme: "Zeitgeist of the Dark Ages The Mood and Spirit of the Times."— Presentation transcript:
Zeitgeist of the Dark Ages The Mood and Spirit of the Times
Dark Age Voice from 450-1066 C.E. The retreating Roman Empire left behind vast monuments to their wondrous civilization, now overrun with weeds and collapsing in ruin.* In Britain, the stark difference between the fallen Roman world and the world of the “barbarians” was most pronounced, due to the relative isolation of the islands, and the relative late-coming of the invading Roman army. When the Roman soldiers and statesmen disembark, they take the spirit of civilization with them, leaving behind the decaying mortality of it: Carved words no one can understand; Buildings and monuments no one has the engineering skills to repair or build; Technological tools and knowledge no one any longer can access.
Among the remnants of the Roman world rises the mist of the Dark Age spirit: Intense and mystical faith – not entirely Christian! The unwritten stories of the Tuatha de Danann, Irish Celtic gods, were alive and well, along with the Celtic religion. Tuatha de Danann, means “people of the goddess Danu.” The Druids are the Celtic cast of priests. The religion worships Danu and other important female goddesses, who are related to the earth, water, and vegetation. The Virgin Mary becomes an important religious figure to replace the worship of this goddess, while Roman saints replace other pagan figures. Women become strong symbols of peace, purity, family, redemption, and fertility. Dark Age Voice from 450-1066 C.E.
Early Christianity itself had been contending orthodoxy, and prior to the time of St. Augustine, in the 4 th century, a male-female duality of God was taught by the Gnostics. In 1945, near the town of Nag Hammadi in Egypt, a series of ancient texts were discovered: a set of religious writings of early Christianity, that were later deemed heretical. Perhaps a bit of this mode of Christianity filtered through Europe, as pagan religions melded with Christianity.
Dark Age Voice from 450-1066 C.E. Even before Christianity arrives, there had been a melding of religions, including the Mithraic faith, possibly brought by Roman soldiers from Persia. For example, there is a temple to Mithra dating from Roman times in central London. (Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance explores these sources.) *
Dark Age Voice from 450-1066 C.E. You can see clear evidence of this in the city of Bath, Aqua Sulis. Sulis is the Celtic god to the thermal waters, but when the temple was rebuilt to appease the locals, after the Boudicca rebellion, it was renamed Sulis Minerva, combining both Celtic and Roman deities.
Dark Age Voice from 450-1066 C.E. Later, Christian churches are built with symbols of Celtic faith, including The Green Man and winding sea serpents, carved as gargoyles. (Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.) In literature, there is a strong influence of Latin epics and myths, especially after these are translated into Middle English. And, also, of Norse or Germanic sagas with Viking invasions.
There is a “Christianization” of many of these myths, as the influence of Christianity grows in Britain. (Christmas and Halloween, for example, and older holidays, such as Lammastide. The Arthur romances themselves are stories about the shift from pagan to Christian religion.)* Persecution of pagans, however, begins with Charlemagne, and continues through the Renaissance. It comes to the United States, in Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 17 th century! ** The fallen ruins of the mighty kingdom lend proof to the transience of human endeavors. There is a very real “millennium madness” and focus on the apocalypse – Christian or Norse – around the turn of the millennium. Dark Age Voice from 450-1066 C.E.
The world is viewed as decayed, corrupted, and awaiting death. The Vikings of course bring the notion of this final destruction in the Norse mythology, with a real humdinger of an apocalypse: Ragnarok. Although a purified earth eventually returns, it will not include your soul. For the most part, there is no happy haven for the dead. Even Valhalla will be destroyed at Ragnarok. * The Christ and the mythological Assyrian phoenix, known in the medieval world courtesy of Ovid, both come to represent a rising from the ashes, to a new civilization. It is perhaps this appeal of Christianity, as well as its adaptability, that lends to its growth and spread through Europe during this time. Dark Age Voice from 450-1066 C.E.
There is REAL death: Vulnerability to disease, starvation, attacking hordes of Vikings or other tribal folks, Welsh, Irish, Scots, and Picts. There is a lack of central government for protection, and rule by war lord. Britain was primitive during this time. Christianity’s message of resurrection, peace and forgiveness, and reward for suffering, is…well, extremely appealing in this world! The message of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-10) is very powerful, as is the notion that sins can be purged.* Later, Christian virtues are encouraged: Fortitude, Justice, Temperance, Prudence, Faith, Hope and Charity, as these lead to redemption and a reward in the afterlife. There emerges a strong belief in Heaven and Hell. Dark Age Voice from 450-1066 C.E.
The notion of fate as a controlling force is predominant in this time. This is part of the melding of other religions, which dictate predetermination, but also a result of the general feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability. Generally, vulnerability does lead to the belief in fate, and a willingness to yield control over life to supernatural forces. It is a great comfort to feel you don’t need to control everything, and that your role in life is set, and that the chain of being is solid and inescapable. The people await a mighty king, who will protect them and unite them, and give them prosperity. This fits well into the teachings of Christianity, and provides a scaffold for the creation of the mythical king, Arthur. Dark Age Voice from 450-1066 C.E.
The Arthur stories – and much of literature from the Dark Ages, represents the struggle of a world emerging from a fallen civilization, rebuilding itself and redefining itself. This struggle is evident in the shift from pagan faith and practices, to Christian faith and practices. As the middle ages progresses, the mood of the literature shifts tremendously: It’s more hopeful, more joyous, more prosperous, more humorous, and begins to show signs of humanism and self-determination. The power of a strong civilization creates the background for a new zeitgeist, called the Renaissance. Dark Age Voice from 450-1066 C.E.