Thursday, September 24, 2020

Stamford Bridge Day

Today, September 25th, is the anniversary of one of the greatest military triumphs of Anglo-Saxon England, the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. King Harold II and his army comprehensively dismantled a colossal Viking force, captained by Harald Hardraada of Norway and Harold's renegade brother, Tostig. The English victory was as emphatic as they come and brought to a definitive end neatly three hundred years of incursions and invasions from Scandinavia.

Stamford Bridge is inevitably overshadowed, however, by what happened near Hastings nineteen days later when Harold lost his kingdom and his life on the ridge of Senlac Hill. The Norman Conquest, in many ways, was the price the Saxons paid for their dispatching  of the Vikings, though Harold could have helped himself more than he did by taking his time to rest and regroup and not rush down headlong, as he did in the end, to lock antlers with the Normans when there was no immediate need.

The tragedy of Hastings casts a long shadow over our history. It is present still today and there is a sense, I feel, in which it can be said that the English are perhaps the most deeply colonised of all the peoples who were subdued first by the Norman state and then by its outgrowth and development, the British Empire. To a large extent they have forgotten who they were prior to 1066 and, what is more, have forgotten that they have forgotten! They have come to identify themselves with the achievements and legacy of Anglo-Norman England, which is a very different thing and distinctly foreign in spirit to the Anglo-Saxon polity that came before. It is not for nothing that J.R.R. Tolkien intensely disliked the Normans. Perhaps he intuited the scale and depth of the civilisational takeover they so brutally and efficiently executed.

There are signs, however, that this might be starting to change. Paul Kingsnorth's 2015 novel, The Wake, is a case in point, with its description - in Kingsnorth's vivid interpretation of Old English - of an embittered, embattled English resistance leader in the immediate post-Conquest era - 

There has been chatter this year too about restoring some form of regional governance in England. If we had such a thing, the writer Ed West argues in this short piece, then our response to Coronavirus might have been more joined-up and coherent, as was that of Germany, a country well known, of course, for its strong traditions of regional autonomy. What better model could we have for this then than the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy? 

I will conclude this post with R.J Unstead's account of the Battle of Stamford Bridge from his The Story of Britain (1969), ostensibly for children but required reading, to my mind, for anyone with a stake in British politics, society and culture. We really need to tap into what is depicted here, own it, and make it ours - love of one's land and locale, and an absolute refusal to let an enemy (internal or external) dictate terms and set the agenda. King Harold's response to Hardraada and Tostig was simple, direct and clear, but he took the same approach to the south coast and William of Normandy and it proved his undoing. So we have to pick our battles and know when to go forward and when to draw back. But in my view it is the spirit of Stamford Bridge which is required right now, faced as we are with a 'conservative' government which does anything but conserve, led by a Prime Minister who is the very embodiment of the Anglo-Norman √©lite who have sucked the blood out of 'England's green and pleasant land' for nigh on a millennium. 

William 'English' Blake railed against their scientific and philosophical representatives, Isaac Newton and John Locke, and we should do the same. We should rail against the Anglo-Norman élite wherever we find them. We should 'rage hard', as the old Frankie Goes to Hollywood song says, and keep the sainted memory of King Harold alive and fresh, especially at this time with England teetering on the brink of tyranny. The winning and losing is not what matters ultimately. It is the stance taken and the attitude shown that counts. In this respect, 'these clouded hills', to quote Blake again, could have no better role model and exemplar ...

'... Harold had just disbanded his army (who had been waiting for the Normans all summer) and sent the fleet to the Thames, when a call for help came from the north. Three hundred longships had sailed into the Humber and an army of Norsemen, led by Harald Hardraada, King of Norway, was ravaging the land like a pack of wolves. Earl Tostig was there with the invaders, for he had invited Harald Hardraada, the giant Viking, who had fought all over Europe, to come to take his brother's throne.

'Hardraada defeated the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria, and made them promise to help him against Harold. Then they waited for the English King at Stamford Bridge, a wooden bridge that crossed the Derwent, seven miles from York.

'With housecarls and as many fighting-men as he could muster, Harold came north at furious speed. In York, he learned that the enemy was only a short distance off, so, refusing to rest, he drove his tired men on without a pause. They came to Stamford Bridge, where the Norwegian host was camped on both banks, their armour laid aside and their ranks unformed.

'Harold sent a message to Tostig. He would pardon him and restore him to his earldom if he came across to the English side.

'"And what land will my brother give to Harald Hardraada?"

'Angrily, Harold replied, "To the King of Norway, I will give six feet of English earth. No, seven feet, seeing that he is taller than other men and needs a longer grave!"

'Then he gave the order to attack. The English broke through the forces on the West Bank of the river but were checked by a gigantic Viking who held the bridge until he was speared from below by a soldier who had crept under the timbers. Once across the river, the English infantry cut the host to pieces and, as Harald Hardraada and Tostig lay dead in the field, they chased the remnant back to the ships.

'Harold had kept his word. The most famous war-captain lay in his seven foot grave, the pirate army was destroyed and only a few survivors were sailing ruefully back to Norway. The English buried their dead and tended the wounded, as the monks sang the Thanksgiving in York Minster.'

Thursday, September 10, 2020

C.S. Lewis and Our Current Moment

Last week I had to complete some unconscious bias training for work purposes. It seemed a relatively benign experience on the whole. It was an online course and only took half an hour. Certainly not a 'struggle session' or anything like that.

At the very end, however, in the recap section, a phrase leapt out at me: 'Don't trust your intuition. Rely on objective data instead.' And a million alarm bells rang out in my mind. I was reminded straightaway of the Objective Room in C.S. Leiws's That Hideous Strength, where Mark Studdock is taken by the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (NICE) to be re-educated. The aim is to rub out the individual's innate sense of right and wrong and make him into a tabula rasa so that supposedly objective, but in reality evil, assumptions can be implanted in him instead:

'To sit in the room, Mark understood, was the first step towards what Dr. Frost called objectivity - the process whereby all specifically human attributes were killed in a man... Higher degrees in the asceticism of anti-Nature would doubtless follow: the eating of abominable food, the dabbling in dirt and blood, the ritual performances of calculated obscenities.'

Mark observes a number of pictures in the room:

'At first, most of them seemed rather ordinary, though Mark was a little surprised at the predominance of scriptural themes. It was only in the second or third glance that one discovered certain unaccountable details - something odd about the positions of the figures' feet or the arrangement of their fingers or the grouping. And who was the person standing between the Christ and the Lazarus? And why were there so many beetles under the table in the Last Supper? What was the curious trick of lighting that made every picture look like something seen in delirium?'

This theme of the corruption of art led me to reflect on how something like the above might be achieved by the powers of evil in the world today but on a much wider, societal scale. The idea came to me that perhaps what Satan really wants out of this whole Coronavirus saga is a huge symbolic triumph. He knows that the symbolic level is the most important of all. It cuts far deeper than the political and social levels. So what if he was able to engineer a complete rewriting of human spiritual and cultural history, symbolised perhaps by a reworking of Michelangelo's Last Judgment, with some characters erased so that everyone on the canvas can be socially distanced and with all of them wearing masks?

It sounds far-fetched, I know, but what more potent, long-lasting and deeply Orwellian way could there be of embedding and encoding the 'new normal' into our minds?  

'We have always been at war with Eastasia. There was never a time when we were not at war with Eastasia.'

'We have always worn masks. There was never a time when we did not wear masks. There will never be a time when we do not wear masks.'

Another way in which Lewis has been prescient this year is with regards to this never-ending wave of riots and protests, particularly in America but in Britain and Europe as well to an extent. What especially concerns me is how these protests have often seemed to involve the desecration of churches and statues of Our Lord and the saints. I'm thinking especially of a statue of Our Lady which was recently decapitated in Canada. There have been plenty more statues which have met the same fate during the last few weeks. No-one has been hurt, defenders of this lunacy will say, but that's not the point. The symbolism, again, is everything, and this level of hatred and animosity is clearly a prelude to people getting hurt anyway.

On one level the whole thing seems completely bizarre and pointless. What responsibility does Christianity have for the death of George Floyd? None. But if we look at things from a demonic point of view it might be exactly this 'slippage' into attacks on Christian symbols that is the whole aim of the exercise. This is the direction, quite possibly - almost definitely,  I'm inclined to say - in which the situation is being guided.

When I look at the ongoing orgy of looting and destruction I'm reminded of the orgiastic frenzy surrounding the death of Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe:

'A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke... Everyone was at him (Aslan) now. Those who had been afraid to come near him even after he was bound began to find their courage, and for a few minutes Susan and Lucy could not even see him - so thickly was he surrounded by the whole crowd of creatures kicking him, hitting him, spitting on him, jeering at him.'

We begin to see now the pincer-movement which Satan has so far successfully deployed in 2020. Rudlof Steiner saw the exact nature of how this works, with what he called a Luciferic point of attack on one side - lustful, violent, furious - and an Ahrimanic assault on the other - cold, bureaucratic, soul-destroying. Ahriman is more powerful than Lucifer. The latter is the former's 'useful idiot' and serves, often unknowingly, to advance Ahriman's ends.

So there we are. This is exactly the current situation, and it seems to me that Lewis flagged both aspects up in his fiction. It is important for us to be aware of this. Our counter-attack (and there must and will be one) will have to take place first of all on the spiritual level and it needs to be based on, dare I say it, this objective assessment of where we are and who is pulling the strings and why.