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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Proclamations of the Red Queen

18th September 2008

Things That Went Bump in the Medieval Forest

Posted by: Craig Young

I came across a fascinating article in BBC History, a magazine associated with the broadcasters BBC4 highbrow channel. In it was a look back at how medieval Europeans would have seen the world around them. Hence the irreverent title.

In medieval England, life expectancy was rather short. Maternal mortality was commonplace, as was infant mortality, death as a participant in interneccine wars between the monarchy, higher nobility and clergy, famine, bubonic plague, incineration as a heretic, or some other insalubrious fate. It all meant that most serfs tended to shuffle off this mortal coil at around fortysomething. 

The medieval dead were a particular nuisance, as many of them kept leaving their graves and wandering around assorted forests across the length and breadth of the country. If you were well-dressed, you might meet an entourage of inanely grinning animated skeletons or rotting corpses who would chorus:

Such as you were, so were we/Such as we are, so you will be.

Shades of the vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but nowhere near as attractive as some of them were.  The afterlife and corporeal existence were two-way streets, but fortunately, the church existed, to ward off the annoying and malodorous deadies with various rituals and sacraments.

While I was reading this, I realised that the Pentecostal fundamentalist community has a strikingly similar take on this “perilous traffic” between the physical and metaphysical worlds. In their case, the problem isn’t the odd pesky arboreal corpse or skeleton, but dire demonologies. In their literature, unseen by us mere mortals, the surrounding world is inhabited by red, behorned and fork-tailed central casting satanoids, who are similarly to blame for the awful world around them. No wonder they dislike Dungeons and Dragons, Halloween and wiccans in general. Never mind that the concept of an everpresent empowered  cabal of satanists has only been around since the time of Louis XIV, less than four centuries ago.  And I speak as one frequently exorcised by potty Penties, with no appreciable effect on my waistline, sadly. According to octogenerian NZ Pentecostal Bill Subritzky, uneven leg lengths are a sign of homosexuality, you know.

And yes, this is an advance article written for Halloween/Samhain/Beltane, depending on which neopagan revivalist tradition one follows. Ah, what funny folk these fundies be…


Julian Birkett: “Did Christianity Rule Their Lives?” BBC History: 9:4: April 2008: 27:

Tags: Religion

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