In the novel, a transport aircraft carrying some of the pathfinders goes astray (as some did) causing one Private Michael Horsett to land far off-target. Horsett is taken in by a group of French Thelemite magicians — all female.
Complications ensue. The Thelemites have their own agenda. Local Resistance fighters have another agenda. Private Horsett, new to war, wants to prove himself as a soldier. And there is a Tarot puzzle built into the text. It is not easy to combine occultism with a thriller plot, but Richardson pulls it off.1)Military historians may note some oddities. For example, Wehrmacht helmets (as with other armies) came in only one size, with the adjustment in the harness.
• “Animism at the Dinner Table.” From Sarah Lawless’ blog — really, this is the basic basic level of a Pagan life. It is more important than pantheons, Lore, texts, dressing up like the ancestors and all the stuff that people get worked up about.
What if we didn’t strive to be like the ancients, whose true ways are long lost and whose skills are beyond many of us at this time, but instead decided to bring the philosophy of animism to the dinner table? What would it look like? To be honest, it would look foolish to an outsider as it would involve talking to plants and animals, talking to our food sources, as if they were sentient and could understand us. Most of the old prayers collected as folklore weren’t really prayers at all, they were people talking to plants and to wild spirits.
A rapidly increasing stream of New Age believers – or esoterics, as locals call them – have descended in their camper van-loads on the usually picturesque and tranquil Pyrenean village of Bugarach. They believe that when apocalypse strikes on 21 December this year, the aliens waiting in their spacecraft inside Pic de Bugarach will save all the humans near by and beam them off to the next age.
Of course, no one actually interviews any of them. That would require work, and this is just one Oliver Pickup of The Independent free-associating at his keyboard.
For decades, there has been a belief that Pic de Bugarach, which, at 1,230 metres, is the highest in the Corbières mountain range, possesses an eery power. Often called the “upside-down mountain” – geologists think that it exploded after its formation and the top landed the wrong way up – it is thought to have inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Since the 1960s, it has attracted New Agers, who insist that it emits special magnetic waves.
As the British archaeologist Stuart Piggott pointed out back in the 1960s, there are no texts written about Druids by Druids. The sum of what ancient writers of the Greco-Roman world wrote would fill a few typed sheets—and many of those writers never saw a Druid.
Miranda Aldhouse-Green’s approach, however, is to look at the archaeological evidence, chiefly from Britain and France, and then reason like this: If the archaeology shows elaborate grave construction, or evidence of repeated sacrifices (including human) at a special site, or temple construction, or burials of certain high-status individuals who were not necessarily kings or queens, then that level of religious complexity implies that there were religious specialists to administer it.
And if we try to describe those religious specialists—using primarily Caesar’s writings and those of Tacitus, but also other writers who actually met Druids or their descendants in Gallo-Roman society—then we can probably assume that they were the Druids. She writes,
In order to make any sense of the Druids as a powerful class of religious leads we can examine contemporary material culture for, if they did exist in Caesar’s day, the Druids would have operated within a context of regalia, ritual equipment, sacrifice, and sacred places (xvi).
Much of the book, therefore, discusses ancient sacred sites, excavated burials, artifacts, etc., leading to open-ended questions on the line of “Do these artifacts mark this as the grave of a Druid?”
Generally these seem to be reasonable inferences, although even if one could be sure that it was the grave of a Druid, for example, that still says nothing about what that Druid thought, believed, or did. So often the texts that claim to answer those questions come from a writer who lived at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea from the nearest Druid.
Nevertheless, it is a thought-provoking book. I had not realized the extent of the archaeological evidence that could be brought out and associated at least hypothetically with the Druids.
Her evidence of religious practice in the space between Roman and Gallic or British ways is most fascinating, for it would suggest perhaps that “Druidism” changed and evolved when in contact with the Roman world and Roman religion. (Despite what happened on Anglesey [Mona] in 60 CE, not all Druids were ever killed.)
I wanted to look for some material on agriculture—the adoption of the three-field system, wheeled plows, etc.—but I was sucked into a chapter entitled, “Strong Rulers—Weak Economy? Rome, the Carolingians and the Archaeology of Slavery in the First Millennium AD” by a German scholar, Joachim Henning.
Here are two figures that I have lifted from his work:
As I used to tell my students when we talked about American religion and slavery, the Roman empire back in Jesus’ time ran on slavery the way that our civilization runs on petroleum. (And Jesus had nothing to say about it.)
Slavery requires chains and shackles, lest the slaves wander away. Figure 2.1 is a map of archaeological sites (farms, villas, plantations) containing shackles.
The second figure graphs shackle finds over time in Gaul (France, roughly). They rise during the Roman times, then plunge during the Merovingian dynasty, during the so-called Dark Ages.
But then shackle finds—and hence presumably slavery—rise during the Carologian dynasty. Its founder, Charles Martel (ca. 688-741), stopped the Islamic expansion into Europe. His grandson Charlemagne (Charles the Great) is a huge figure in medieval western European history, but his actions included the slaughter of more than 4,000 Saxons who resisted conversion to Christianity.
There was a European slave trade in Pagan, polytheistic Roman times—and it continued into Christian times, up through the 1400s, at least—and then it was time for Columbus!