Ravens in the Mead-Hall or How I Spent My Weekend

I just returned from a conference at Villanova this past weekend. The Patristics, Medieval, and Renaissance (PMR) conference is one of the leading theology conferences held every year just outside of Philadelphia. It’s really my favorite conference, the one I really, really try to do every year. It’s a lovely group of people and I always learn so much when I attend. This year the panels were so good (they pretty much always are) and I feel I have new things to gnaw upon, so much productive feedback to integrate into my work, and so many new books to track down and read. I can’t wait for next year (and for me to say that about any conference is miraculous. I might enjoy them but they generally wear me out. This one, well, I was sorry when it ended).

This year I chaired a panel and presented a paper. Usually I work in Patristics. My ongoing area of interest is developing a cultural poetics of the eunuch, looking at early Christian sources and the way ideas of the self and the holy were mediated through the figure of the eunuch. Because this conference covers more than just late antiquity, however, I was able to present a side project, one that is rapidly becoming a major secondary area of interest for me. I first gave an iteration of this paper, titled “Ravens in the Mead-hall: Rewriting Faith in the Wake of Charlemagne and the Saxon Wars” at last year’s Kalamazoo Medieval Conference and in between then and now, I’ve tweaked it considerably. This paper discusses Charlemagne’s war against the Saxons and their consequent forced conversion through the lens of post-colonial theory. It utilizes the Heliand, the 9thcentury Saxon translation of the Gospels as a lens through which to explore the re-positioning of the Saxons as a subaltern people, and the ways in which their indigenous religious traditions remained vividly relevant within the framework of Christianity. It gets a little darker than this implies, discussing things like forced child oblation, genocide, and the erasure of indigenous religious cultures too (and these darker threads are things I intend to continue exploring with this line of research). It was remarkably well received.

This is partly my way of holding space as a polytheist for our ancestors. Yes, it is useful to go to professional conferences. It’s a chance to explore these side topics, to get valuable feedback, in an atmosphere that – at least in this case – is fairly relaxed and congenial. Yes, I really want to look more closely at the ways post-colonial theory can be applied to Charlemagne’s atrocities. The more I learn about forced child oblation, forced exile, forced conversion and all the various ways the Franks impeded on and erased Saxon religious culture, the more I’m convinced that it’s here specifically that structures were first put in place that came to be used throughout the conquest of the New World, six hundred years later. Before all of that, however, I am holding space for the dead.

This is important. This is part of our history as contemporary polytheists. This is the story of our traditions, what happened to them, and why we are in the position we’re in today of having to reclaim, rebuild, and restore. If we do not understand what happened and where we came from, then we will never truly appreciate the importance of that restoration, of holding staunchly to our traditions, of cultivating piety and respect and reverence for our dead.

Why do I do this? Let me give one small example: during the Q&A, one of the attendees, a senior scholar who herself later presented a fascinating paper on a piece of Arthurian lit., said to me very earnestly, “I think it’s important to remember that the Franks had good intentions.” When I picked my jaw up off the floor I responded, “I’m sure that makes all the difference to the five thousand plus Saxons butchered at Verden.”

 I’m sure that makes all the difference in the world to the men, women, and children who fought to maintain religious and cultural independence and instead ended up exiled, impoverished, with their children forcibly interred in monastic “schools” where they were Christianized and denied a Saxon identity religious or otherwise. Are you fucking kidding me? That is like saying Hitler had good intentions too. Who the fuck says that? Yet here we are in 2019 and I’ve an intelligent, educated scholar in all earnestness urging me to remember: the Christians had good intentions.  That’s why I do this, because that attitude is everywhere in academia. It isn’t genocide if it occurred before the 19thcentury and was blessed by the cross.

Of course, not everyone thinks that way and most of the scholars that I work directly with would be equally appalled by such a thoughtless comment, a comment that erases the religious and cultural genocide of a people. Still, there are enough who do not question the narrative of the goodness of conversion, of Christian expansion, who do not realize that such expansion came with a heavy price, writ in blood, who do not realize it was forcibly done against the will of numerous peoples, or who do not care, that it is important to hold the line openly and at times vociferously. The evidence is there for those scholars who care to look. It is my obligation to do so. The intentions of those who destroyed our traditions really don’t matter. The results speak for themselves.

For those interested in reading my article in full, it will be coming out in the next issue of Walking the Worlds.

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on October 22, 2019, in academic work, Heathenry, Lived Polytheism, Polytheism, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I also have an MA in medieval history, focusing on early Scandinavia. One of my favorite books from seminar is Robert Bartlett’s The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change. I love his discussion on Pagan Lithuania and the Christian attempts at its conquest. I look forward to reading your paper; I agree that Charlemagne’s atrocities certainly set much of the groundwork for later colonization and genocide.

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    • i love Lithuania (not only bc i’m half Lithuanian on my dad’s side). They held onto their traditions longer than anyone, even the Icelanders and Romuva began to be publicly seen again almost as soon as communism fell. 🙂

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  2. On the bright side(and to play the Devil’s advocate), if it weren’t for Charlemagne’s grandfather, we might all be on our knees praying to Mecca five times a day. This does NOT excuse the cultural genocide perpetrated by his grandson however. I’m just trying to find the positive.

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    • I doubt that. Spain was not the only invasion route and Islam never made it far into Europe via those other routes. I suspect that climate and terrain were more a force than “great men”- though certainly a lot of courage and tenacity was involved. The Franks, on the other hand, had Germanic roots and so were prepared for those factors.

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  3. Not theologically enlightened, but I have heard that the read to hell is paced with good intentions.

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  4. Even the non-religious scholars tend to think like that. Many of them think that Christianity paved the way for the modern world. The modern world is enlightened and comfortable. Besides, it isn’t like most of the Christians now will kill you for not believing, it is a nice safe religion. Progress goes ever forward.

    I am inclined to go ahead and let them think that. Let them give Romanization and Christianity full credit for the modern world, even if that is not entirely true. If things go how I think they will(what with the environment, population, and other issues) then in a few centuries(or less) no one will want credit for all this. If Charlemagne is remembered I hope it will be as a byname for treachery and ill.

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  5. Hey, good for you. I hope you found Carole Cusack’s paper on Charlemagne and the Saxons useful. https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/POM/article/view/9994

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