An Amber Alert from 1284 CE

The ratcatcher and the rats, part of a civic pageant in Hamelin today.

“Amber alert” defined for readers outside the USA.

In five days it will be the 733rd anniversary of the most famous missing children case in Western Europe. What happened to the children of Hamelin, a town (current population about 57,000) in what is today the German state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)?

A June 2010 article in the Fortean Times by Maria Cuervo summarized various possible explanations; Cuervo reprints it in a more readable format on her blog here.

Years ago I read a science-fiction story of explorers coming to another planet and finding a human community who built their houses in a vaguely medieval German style. Yes, they were the descendants of the children led away by the ratcatcher, through some kind of interdimensional portal. If you know the author and title, post them in the comments.

A Bronze Age Battle Lost in the Misty Past

Tollensetal Impressionsfraktur

Some fighters had bronze weapons and armor; others carried wooden clubs — and used them. (Landesamt für Kultur und Denkmalpflege Mecklenburg-Vorpommern/Landesarchäologie/D. Jantzen)

Men came to Tollense . . . or whatever it was called about 3,260 years ago.1)“The things they carried” — an appropriate literary reference? In a river valley north of Berlin, two Bronze Age armies clashed, casualties were at least in the hundreds, and no one can say who fought or why.

“We have 130 people, minimum, and five horses. And we’ve only opened 450 square meters. That’s 10% of the find layer, at most, maybe just 3% or 4%,” says Detlef Jantzen, chief archaeologist at MVDHP. “If we excavated the whole area, we might have 750 people. That’s incredible for the Bronze Age.” In what they admit are back-of-the-envelope estimates, he and Terberger argue that if one in five of the battle’s participants was killed and left on the battlefield, that could mean almost 4000 warriors took part in the fighting.

And this comparison to a war that spawned literature we still read today:

As University of Aarhus’s Vandkilde puts it: “It’s an army like the one described in Homeric epics, made up of smaller war bands that gathered to sack Troy”—an event thought to have happened fewer than 100 years later, in 1184 B.C.E. That suggests an unexpectedly widespread social organization, Jantzen says. “To organize a battle like this over tremendous distances and gather all these people in one place was a tremendous accomplishment,” he says.

It’s my literary imagination at work — someone must have sung those dead warriors, maybe in a long elegiac poem like Y Gododdin — but in what language? And to what ends?

Lost, all lost.

Notes   [ + ]

1. “The things they carried” — an appropriate literary reference?

A Top Nazi’s Library, “Violent” Heathens, and a Middle Eastern “Old Religion”

himmler and hitler

Heinrich Himmler (front, leather coat) chats with der Führer.

According to the Daily Mail (dial skepticism appropriately) a collection of occult books1)Hans Thomas Hakl probably has more than Himmer did—but no castle. owned by Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler has been found in the Czech Republic.

The bulk of the collection was called the ‘Witches Library’ and concentrated on witches and their persecution in medieval Germany.

One of Himmler’s quack theories was that the Roman Catholic Church tried to destroy the German race through witch hunts.

UPDATE, March 31, 2016: The Wild Hunt reports that the news story quoted above resulted from a misunderstanding, and that there were no “occult books,” just some Masonic books.

• At Religion Dispatches, thoughts on how the History Channel series The Vikings both “subverts and supports the violent heathen trope” (my italics).

In one scene, the Christian Prince Aethelwulf, who earlier in the series said that “it is just not possible to imagine a world in which there is both one god and several,” unleashed genocidal fury on a settlement of unarmed, pagan [sic], Viking2)“Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity. “Norse” would be a better choice. farmers who had been promised protection by the king. Yet,3)No comma needed after an introductory conjunction. So stop it! the show includes vestiges of the violent heathen trope that’s been a staple of how dominant religious groups have portrayed minority religious groups throughout history.

• According to this article, some Kurds, who are various in conflict with Sunni and Shiite Arabs and Iranians, are going back to the Old Religion, that of Zoroaster. (It has hung in some places all these centuries since the Arab Muslims rolled over Persia in the 8th century.)

The small, ancient religion of Zoroastrianism is being revived in northern Iraq. Followers say locals should join because it’s a truly Kurdish belief. Others say the revival is a reaction to extremist Islam.

One of the smallest and oldest religions in the world is experiencing a revival in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The religion has deep Kurdish roots – it was founded by Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, who was born in the Kurdish part of Iran and the religion’s sacred book, the Avesta, was written in an ancient language from which the Kurdish language derives. However this century it is estimated that there are only around 190,000 believers in the world – as Islam became the dominant religion in the region during the 7th century, Zoroastrianism more or less disappeared.

So does this count as a “Native Faith” movement, like Rodnoverie, etc., but not polytheistic?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Hans Thomas Hakl probably has more than Himmer did—but no castle.
2. “Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity. “Norse” would be a better choice.
3. No comma needed after an introductory conjunction. So stop it!

New E-book on Germanic Paganism

Norse Revival:Transformations of Germanic Neopaganism, a new book by Stefanie von Schnurbein (Humboldt University, Berlin) appears to be available as a free download from Brill. (Yes, I am using the words free and Brill in the same sentence.)

Norse Revival examines international Germanic Neopaganism (Asatru). It investigates its origins in German ultra-nationalist movements around 1900, its attempt to gain respectability since the 1970s and its intersections with historical and current debates on race, religion, gender, and aesthetics.

The link worked for me, so see if it works for you. It is a PDF file (4.5 MB).

Sampling the Pagan Blogosphere

¶ Andy Letcher goes to Helston in Cornwall for Flora Day, with flowers, pageantry, and the Furry Dance:

Then there is the Furry Dance itself. According to Ronald Hutton, the first mention of any Mayish activities in Helston is in 1600, but the dance is the last surviving Cornish Processional Dance (of which there were once many). It became popular, and formalised, in the nineteenth century, a legacy that remains, giving it the feel of something out of Trumpton.
There are four dances throughout the day, each processing right round the town and in and out of select shops and houses. They’re driven along by the Helston Town Band playing that tune.
If it’s a contender for the most irritating tune ever written then that’s only because some of us are old enough to remember Terry Wogan’s ghastly 1978 chart-topping rendition of the song (which is a later addition). In fact the tune is full of pomp and brilliantly infectious. It echoes round the streets and does the job of spurring the dancers on.

¶ Apuleius Platonicus tries to put to rest the idea that Hitler and his inner circle were some kind of Nazi Neo-Pagans with a post titled “Hitler Hated Heathens.”

I disagree though with his flip over to the position that Hitler was therefore pro-Christian. In fact, he regarded both Catholic and Lutheran clergy and those would revive ancient Germania as useful idiots — fine if they helped the cause; otherwise, they got a nice holiday at a camp in the countryside. Since the majority of Germans were Christians, it helped to have compliant clergy give the Nazi message a Christian garnish— pray for the troops, etc.

¶ At Invocatio, scholar of esotericism Sarah Veale looks at the Harvard Black Mass story, which has set a black cat among the journalistic pigeons this week.

The shock value of Satanic transgression, ironically—and ideally—will lead to greater discussion about the place of religion in the public sphere. Will it lead to acceptance for marginalized groups? I’m not sure. But it illustrates quite clearly that the laws are for all.

(We saw what you did there, Sarah.)

Academic Work on Paganism in Germany

René Gründer shared a link to a monograph series that includes work on contemporary Paganism and shamanism. Information in English, but the books themselves are available only in German.

His web page also contains links to some articles in English.

Cannibalism in ‘Old Europe’?

Archaeologists have found evidence of possible long-term cannibalism at a 7,000-year-old Neolithic settlement in what is now southern Germany.

Human sacrifice at Herxheim is a hypothesis that’s difficult to prove right now, but we have evidence that several hundred people were eaten over a brief period,” [Bruno] Boulestin says. Skeletal markings indicate that human bodies were butchered in the same way as animals.

Other researchers suggest that the people were merely cleaning up the bones of the dead for a ceremonial reburial. But vultures, etc., would do that job for free–and still do in some parts of the world.

But wait, this is Marija Gimbutas’ Old European Culture, the peaceful ancient matriarchies. Were they eating each other?

I think that it is safe to assume that prehistory was much more complicated than we imagine when we look at it through lenses of theory.

After 2,000 Years, Hermann is Followed by Ghosts

This autumn is the 2,000th anniversary of the battle when German tribes decisively defeated 20,000 Roman soldiers in the Teutoburg Forest.

But the anniversary–particularly the memory of the leader of the German commander, Hermann (Arminius)–is a complicated thing in Germany.

The events surrounding Hermann, though, are a weird mix of the two, presenting a revised, sanitised, consumer-friendly warrior, a national hero recast as neither “national” nor a hero. “To me, he is just a garden gnome,” Schafmeister said during an interview in his office, his desk piled with Hermann chocolate bars and other paraphernalia. The exhibits and plays organised for the anniversary no longer depict Hermann as the founding father of the German peoples: instead he appears as a minor warlord who got lucky, an interesting figure with no relevance to the present. 

“He is really history,” says Herfried Münkler, a historian at Berlin’s Humboldt University and the author of The Germans and their Myths. “He is no longer relevant to the question of German identity.” 

“It’s a thin line to walk – a year of festivities for a man no one thinks is worth celebrating. “We don’t even call it an anniversary, because that implies a celebration,” said Schafmeister. “It is just a recognition of something that happened from 2,000 years ago.”

The religion journalists at Get Religion often talk about “ghosts” in news stories–a religious element or motivation that the journalist fails to see or explain. (The news media, in other words, do not “get” religion.)

Do you see a religion ghost or two here also?

A few years ago, I was talking with a German student of mine at the university and her boyfriend. The boyfriend had wanted to read a diary kept by some of my own German ancestors about their immigration from Lower Saxony to Missouri in 1843.

I mentioned how Germans who came to Missouri had established vineyards, and how a center of wine-making was the town of Hermann.

“Hermann, of course!” said my student, rolling her eyes.

Had she been one of the schoolchildren who “learnt what a shame it was that the erstwhile hero had prevented Latin culture from reaching northern Germany”?