Posts Tagged ‘History’

johan-huizinga

I’d been email-chatting with an historian, one of a new group, with their own angle, agenda, their own name. I signed off saying I was just going to re-read some Huizinga.
And that was it. I did not hear from him again.
I had gone beyond the Pale.

That is the problem with Academies, they become so culty, hemmed-in with codes and etiquettes. I had obviously mentioned an historian who was not ‘in’ with their group.
I was going to re-read him because I found so much of value there. But it wasn’t what they valued. He did it differently. Heaven forbid.

Johan Huizinga is mostly known in the English-speaking world for his magisterial The Waning of the Middle Ages. The more correct title, apparently, is The Autumn of the Middle Ages, published 1924. It is this book made the man’s name. He was a leading Dutch historian.

His dates are 1872 to 1945.
That last date in particular I want you to note: died February, 1945. He had been interned in 1942 after criticism of the invasion forces. Eventually, after much clamour and agitation by the international history community, he was released. He was released in that terrible winter of 1944/5.
It is now estimated that 10,000 Dutch people died that winter, after the Nazi’s cut off food and energy supply lines, in retaliation. As the Allied forces moved through France, the Belgian and Dutch citizens could see liberation so near, so inevitable. They cheered them on. When the advance was stalled in the Ardennes, the Nazi’s took their revenge.

He began his academic career as a student of Indo-Germanic languages; he then studied comparative linguistics. He taught Oriental Studies for many years. It was not until his 30s he turned to medieval studies. Here he excelled.

His book on the later middle ages gives us the clamour and spectacle of the period, the life-lived-in-public aspect.
He also fills in with some of the gaps in current information on, for instance, such figures as Georges Chastellain, and others grouped as the grands rhetoriqueurs:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grands_Retoriqueurs.
This gives us, in turn, the real nature of the much acclaimed period. In this book he sets the increasing brutality and violence of the time against its constructed images of courtois and chivalry.
The book investigates the Burgundian Court in its positioning as potential alternate power-base to the royal court.
Professor Ralph Strom-Olsen of Madrid University, put up a very interesting paper on this: Georges Chastellain and the Language of Burgundian Historiography, that is available on Academia.edu from http://fs.oxfordjournals.org/

He has other books, influential in modern fields. Take Gaming – for this the ‘go to’ book is his Homo Ludens, published 1938.
Homo Ludens puts forward, and illustrates, the theory that our main and enduring activities as civilized people, is a form of play, serious play, that is play with rules. He traces word games as the origins of rhetoric, to Cicero’s monumental legal disputes; he sees here also the dress-up aspect in legal and royal court costume.
Playing and Knowing is an intriguing chapter, challenging us to consider acquisition of knowledge, experimentation, indeed logic, as forms of play-activity. How can we know anything until we put aside certainty, the known, and step out into maybe-land? But this play is deadly serious: riddle-solving, the penalty of death, are part and parcel of the game.
The point is, he stimulates thought, he makes us look at our institutions differently.
The range of this subject can be seen to refer us back to to the subject of Professor Huizinga’s first PhD: The Role of the Jester in Indian Drama.
https://gamingconceptz.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/huizingas-magic-circle.html

You can go to the crazy end and cite the late 1960’s Playpower ideals here. Oz Magazine founder, Richard Neville’s book, Playpower, was the bible for attempts at neutralizing governments and their powers through play, through the skewing of seriousness and power politics, by returning to origins, and seeing what all its accumulated kudos really was.

Another book of his well worth searching out is Men and Ideas, first published in translation in 1959.
This collection of essays is concerned with ‘the task of cultural history.’
The books have dated, that is, their range of subject matter and methods of treatment, have been left behind by modern tastes.
But the general reader will not find a more stimulating essay on Peter Abelard, than this. His essay on John of Salisbury is also outstanding.
Who was he? He was a 12th Century English cleric, who became apologist for Thomas a Beckett. From modest beginnings he worked his way up, studying under Peter Abelard, was secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Theobald; he even met who was to become known as St Bernard of Clairvaux.
John’s main legacy to us, however, is his Policraticus; the study is a slice of his time.
http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/salisbury-poli4.html
Chaucer valued it highly for its political relevance, its clear thinking, its civil conscience.
His essay on Erasmus, which was the heart of the collection… is it the translation? No; I think Johan Huizinga became exasperated with his subject. The reader comes away with the impression he blamed him for wasting his opportunities, for not being as good as he should have been.

I would dearly love to give as much information on his wife, Mary Schorer.

maryshuiz
Her story must be as fascinating, and as eventful.

Their son, Leonard Huizinga, became a prolific and popular Dutch novelist, with his comedic Adriaan and Olivier series.
There is also another son, of whom I can find nothing.

See also:
http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/history/historian/johan_huizinga.html

 

La Source de la Seine

Posted: February 18, 2017 in Chat
Tags: , ,

Many years ago I took a little time out. I only had little money so the options offered me were Turin, in Italy, or Dijon in France. I knew no Italian, but had a little school French. Not only that but the predominantly urban Turin, and the longer journey I found off-putting. I had also come across an article on the wooden statues found at La source de la Seine. So that was decided.

The day I went out to visit the sanctuary of La Source  was warm, wonderful, with occasional cooling showers of rain. I t00k l’autobus from Dijon, to Ste Seine l’Abbeye, and then walked from there. It was a mostly long straight Langres road.

As I neared the site I noticed the long lines of roadside trees seemed full of dark growth. Intrigued, I looked further: their crowns were thick with mistletoe. This occurred to me to be highly significant: I was approaching a sacred grove.

And then La Source de la Seine:

 

seine2

Whimsical, and 19th Century.

seine1

La Source consisted of a narrow cleft between lush and leafy tree slopes; the sun streamed in and was caught there. As the afternoon declined the air took more of the green colour from the trees, and the many-coloured pastel-shade pebbles in the bed of the water became more noticable.

Just how orchestrated was all this? Were the pebbles natural to the site, or chosen and laid? Was the mistletoe still the same growth from long centuries ago, or especially nurtured recently?
In a way the questions are superfluous: the early priests did no less when building up and commemorating this shrine to Sequana.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequana

http://www.worldhistory.biz/ancient-history/53561-source-de-la-seine.html

What if I had chosen Turin? The wonder of the Turin Shroud awaited me. Is it any less a mystery, not being what we thought it was?
Even the present whimsical Sequana caters to a need. It may not be a particularly elevated need. But then, we have to ask if ‘elevation’ is what it is all about. Is spiritual elevation a specifically Christian concept? Is it a generally monotheistic concept?
Is it a response to a Sky God, a reaching up out of ourselves, to something greater which we conceive of as therefore higher dimensionally, as well as ethically and spiritually?
Is this experience of elevation, or need for elevation, a genuine response of reverence?
Is ‘elevation’ an offering up of oneself?

The wooden offerings date from the Iron Age, and show a variety of physical ailments. We can surmise they were given as votive offerings, as the people appealed for help in some way with physical infirmities. We can also surmise that this was not the earlier reason for the specialness of the site.

I learned many things from my brief time there. One being to keep a tighter hold of one’s money. The other things, I am still discovering.

We go, travel, looking for the authentic experience. It may be that we confuse that authentic with the genuine, even the gratifying. These are mis-identifiers for the experience that is deeply moving, dare we say, elevating – that changes us?

EUROPE

First thing the change in air, the quality of light
on red, gold roofs above Dijon streets.
Then the aggression to my poor school French:
I was young still, ‘Youth is stateless, language
as eloquent as need!’ From l’eglise
de sainte Benigne to the marketplace, a circling;
Algerians spread floor cloths for tooled leather,
haggling I became their foreigner, fair game.

To flounder in language; to return to the hostel, perplexed.
A French-Canadian said, ‘Talk English, huh?’
That night with German students, language
on tongue-kisses, shared strangeness – that night
white walls of apartment blocks opposite
took on a rose-tinge, windows yellowing.
How our differences lit up in us, united us.

Out at the back of this village/small town where I currently live is a long hill. It is still used for quarrying – the local stone has a pink/grey colour, and is quite appealing.
Of course higher up is where the wealthier people live – they can look down on us all from there; it is their natural ‘inclination’.
There are leafy lanes and cart tracks. There are also, criss-crossing these land-owner’s fields, public pathways. These are hard-fought-for, still-being-fought-for public rights of way. Otherwise all this land would be private, prohibited, shut away from people who have lived here generations.

Not far from here is an area of the Peak District known as Kinder Scout. That was all privately owned land, kept for huntin-shootin consortiums.
Well, in 1932 the local Ramblers Groups had had enough, and it came in the Great Depression when many were out of work, and politics was on everyone’s doorstep. The great dream of fairness and equality that Socialist countries were exporting fell on this fertile ground (no matter it never really existed).
In 1932 was the great Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout, when hundreds (for the time that was a significant amount) turned out and walked those forbidden acres. It led to Acts of Parliament granting legal Rights of Way.
Appeasement, maybe; but it worked.

If it wasn’t for the great ideal, even this would not been won. As a great man once said, If you do not aim for the mountains, you will not even make the foothills.

I was walking these leafy lanes and here by an old well at the road side, found this:

cowboy-1

It may be clumsy, but it’s fun, it’s vibrant. But what’s it for?
Later, down a similar lane I came across this one:

owl

Carved out of an old tree stump, an ever-vigilant owl.

I know what these are for: any ideas, anyone?

I must go and find more.

 

Harold Nicholson, The Congress of Vienna. 1948

I’ve had this book for years; it was bought second-hand, when there were second-hand book shops, before the charity shops took on books and drove them out, and then Amazon sent them spinning into oblivion.
It’s a hard back; as I read the pages were still squeezed together – maybe it had never actually been read or even opened fully.

The Congress of Vienna was a favourite topic of mine when I was studying International Relations. And Harold Nicholson was a writer I respected, based on his earlier study of diplomacy .

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Even so, as I read this book over November and December 2016 (one of my bed-time reads), it really brought home the extent of the huge shake-up, the major disruption to Europe as a whole, that Napoleon’s careering around the continent and beyond had created.

map-1810_and_1817-after_congress_of_vienna
This disruption of nation, national territory, identity, continued up-till and after the Second World War: 130+ years.
We read here of the tragic fate of Poland under Napoleon, and then Tsar Alexander  1;  of the machinations behind the establishing of Prussia as a major force in central Europe; we learn the reality/meaning, of the extent of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
This latter is so ably expressed in the novels of Joseph Roth, his Radetzky March in particular, and the lovely novels of Stefan Zweig; or, say, Journey by Moonlight, by Antal Szerb.

Harold Nicholson, in his 1948 book, The Congress of Vienna,wrote:

Nobody who has not actually watched statesmen dealing with each other can have any real idea of the immense part played in human affairs by such unavowable and often unrecognizable causes as lassitude, affability, personal affection or dislike, misunderstanding, deafness  or incomplete command of a foreign language, vanity, social engagements, interruptions and momentary states of health.

All these are conclusions drawn from events, observations, reports, letters. Nothing is made up.

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Left field events in a novel I have always relished: the unexpected, something leaking in from a larger pattern, tie-ing the micro to the macro. The relativism that gives lives meaning.

And yet this excerpt above seems to suggest the opposite of a pattern? These notes by Harold Nicholson plot out how decisions skew, and how such skews are then accommodated, and produce the end result’s wobbling, teetering edifice. Time factor also comes in: this or that was meant as a stop-gap, and yet to alter it afterwards would be to endanger the whole. And so it remains.
And how the ad-hoc has more to say than the rationalised and reasoned. Decisions were made whilst fighting with the major and minor shifting, and conflicting, demands of others.
At an early point in the Congress, three major leaders had painfully thrashed out the basis for reasoned discussion of the whole Congress. Then  France’s new representative, Talleyrand, arrived. He quickly but expertly threw all into disarray simply by questioning the bases of their concepts: against who? France is no longer a threat; then who are the agreements being put up to contain?.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord:
charles_maurice_de_talleyrand-perigond

What fascinates are the courage and psychology of these people: to walk in among the major powers, leaders, kings, emperors, and still hold one’s own. To hold one’s nerve, and one’s sanity.
Englands’ Castlereagh came home broken, and committed suicide some time afterwards.
Shelley may have hated him, but on a positive note he did insist on the Congress tackling the topic of Slavery.
He was very disparaging about the fate and status of Italy.
But then, everyone was about the Spanish representative, Marquis Pedro Gomez de Labrador, and tended to leave him out of everything.
Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh:

casreagh

We can read in this the politics both real and imaginary that have so drawn people: The Game of Thrones is here, maybe most of the conflicts we see around us.

Whoo-hoo!

Now available on Kindle!

Cover

Kindle book ready and waiting!
Roll up! Roll up!

So what’s it about?
It is about how stories, poems, texts, were structured in a certain way from early times, and to the present day. The structure works as a memory system. I investigate how this structure fits into the now well-known Arts of Memory. The book also looks at how the structuring works, and was passed down through time. 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01IRPODPW

Great Xmas Present!

TURTON TOWER, Turton District, Bolton, Lancashire, UK

tt2

The tower itself was modelled on the Scots Border pele towers. It was built in 1420.
This was the same period as the Scottish pele towers. They were fortified farmhouses, built for defence in the centuries-old feuds and political claim-and-reclaim of territory between Scotland and England that was the Scottish Borders.

Why Turton should have a defensive tower, and built by whom, are questions for which we do not know the answers. The setting is that of dominant position between two high land areas: the Winter Hill region to the west, and the Holcombe Hill region to the east. To the south is Bolton, and the north Blackburn.
Bolton was settled by Flemish weavers in the 14th century.
A centre for weaving denotes the area had ideal conditions for, at this period, wool weaving, that is, of continual damp. Bolton and close by Bury were both important towns which came into importance at this period.
Blackburn similarly owed its founding to Flemish weavers in the 13th century.
James Hargreaves, inventor of the spinning jenny, came from Oswaldtwistle, a very near neighbour town, later.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinning_jenny

Why Flemish weavers? This is a fascinating history in itself. See as an introduction:
 https://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/individual-studies/fourteenth-century-england-a-place-flemish-rebels-called-home

An Elizabethan house was built onto the pele tower, and further extensions were early Stuart period.
The Orrell family built the Tower up, but bankrupted themselves in the process. They had to sell. The purchaser in 1628 was Humphrey Chetham.

Chetham College House in Manchester

chethams

was also built around the same time as the Tower: 1421. It was part of the founding of Manchester Cathedral, and was built as a college for priests.
It was here in Elizabethan times that Dr John Dee and family were quietly settled out-of-the-way. His wife and family died of plague and were buried here.He returned to Mortlake, London.

drdee
Humphrey Chetham rescued the ruined buildings and built up and restored them to house a school and free library.The Chetham’s School was founded in 1653, in the period of Cromwell’s Protectorate.

Speaking of which:

Back at the Tower, the Orrell family rented their Tower from Chetham. Chetham, however, as many major Manchester-based families, were supporters of Cromwell’s cause. The Orrell family were not.
Humphrey Chetham stationed Roundheads in the Tower grounds as their base for the whole district. The Orrell family would indeed have had to ‘put up and shut up’ as a local phrase has it.

1835 brought a mock gothic building program to the Tower under new owners. In 1929 it was given to the Turton Urban District Council.
The tower was originally two stories, but a third was added later, along with the crenellations. The top story used to house a museum of sorts
One exhibit was the skull of a local man, hanged for some heinous crime.
The middle floor was used for Council Meetings

http://www.turtontower.co.uk/a-brief-history.html

What I remember especially about the place, and called me back several times, is the Tower itself.
The ground floor is the homeliest place I have ever found. Amidst all the Do Not Touch displays, old paintings, antique furniture, there is a feeling of great peace, and belonging. I think it comes from this: look out of the ground floor windows and what you see…

… are almost floor-level views of the grounds. The ground floor is built into the earth. As you stand you are up to your waist, higher, underground.
That feeling of being bedded-in is wonderful, unique, and very, very appealing.

 

The Tower has its ghost, of course, the Lady of Turton Tower, and its dead-man’s footprint on the stone stairs of the Elizabethan part.
Even the Chetham School’s Dr Dee room has its own distinctive mark: a burn on a desk supposedly belonging to him, and supposedly due to his conjurings.

2016-09-28-10-22-43

The Blackden Trust has been set up to promote and facilitate education, history and culture. The Trust is based around the life, work and experience of the writer Alan Garner.

https://blackdentrust.blogspot.co.uk/

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The site consists of two joined houses, in their own grounds, set well away from the village, and other houses, farms. The site itself abuts a railway line; on the other side of which and a mile or so to the north is The Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope and grounds.

The first house has been kept as the Garner family home, and is ruefully known as T’Owd Hall (The Old Hall). The other is an old reconstructed timber-frame building, known as The Medicine House. This house dates back to possibly the 15th Century. It was bought very cheaply from part of a road-widening demolition scheme, taken apart piece by piece, and three wagon loads then brought to the new site, and the whole house rebuilt.
That was in 1970; by 1972 the house had been reconstructed and was once again a livable space. There were a number of alterations to the structure, but the overall layout has been kept, and original timbers used wherever possible.

https://www.facebook.com/theblackdentrust

2016-09-28-06-14-16

Griselda Garner and her team of volunteers take visiting parties around The Medicine House, and allow free access to most of the grounds. A semi-permanent marquee is erected at the back of the site for visitors (and to keep the hens company).

Alan Garner and family have enhanced the site with brought-in objects from nearby finds. The houses contain cabinets of objects dug up on site, nearby, or from further afield; these are neatly time-lined, and date from neolithic arrow heads, flint tools, a medieval seal, to pottery, Civil War musket shot, and much later objects. The Owl Service table-ware is on display here as well.
One of these brought-in objects is a stone obelisk, now sited in the garden: a carved monolith, like a standing stone, and is supposedly a boundary marker.

2016-09-28-07-33-46

Indoors, in the joining passageway is another carved  object: a 10th century stone head.

The grounds have been planted out with many different varieties of apple trees and gooseberry bushes, a pear tree, and a damson tree. Not forgetting a small green-house bursting and festooned with bunches of small, sweet grapes.

When the timbers from the old Medicine House were stored for reconstruction on the front lawn, they left behind herb seeds. Since then many varieties of herbs have grown. These have been arranged into beds, and all labeled.

Alan Garner has been active in the restoration of many old properties in the area.

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Griselda Garner showed us many interesting aspects and secrets of The Medicine House. It was once two houses, but now has been combined into one. The fireplace is the where the two join. Now that closed fireplace is an open fire area in the middle of the house, with the chimney open to the roof cowl.

Griselda told of objects found in a window space. They were owner-objects, a declaration of the house as space belonging to its owners. The house has also been provided with protective symbols in its most sensitive areas: doors, windows etc.

The most important of these found objects was a small squashed lead bottle. It had contained holy water, and was decorated with two interlocking V’s on one side, and on the other a daisy wheel.
The bottle was from the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in Norfolk. It would have contained water from the shrine.
This symbol of two interlocking V’s. spelling out the W for Walsingham (also Vivat?), when reversed also gives M, for Mary mother of Christ.

In post-Reformation, newly Protestant times, the house had been made safe by these hidden symbols on the beams. They are very hard to read among all the wear and tear and time’s ravages. Also, the beams were plastered over for some period.

Griselda showed how each corner of the main bedroom was marked on the beams with the scratched protective Walsingham initial. This is the only room to be marked out like this.
She suggested it may refer to a protective charm, with a spell attached. We have something like it still, in form of a Bedtime Prayer:

Matthew, Mark, Luke & John
Bless the bed I lay on.
Four corners around my bed
Four angels around my head.
1 to watch
1 to pray
2 to take my soul away.

There are older versions of this prayer, she said. One is Jewish:

In the name of Adonai the God of Israel;
May the angel Michael be at my right,
and the angel Gabriel be at my left;
and in front of me the angel Uriel,
and behind me the angel Raphael…
and above my head the Sh’khinah.

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/bedtime.html

This one is particularly interesting.
I was thinking further on this. She mentioned the four corners of the room marked for protection, and with the ways of superstition and magic being to make use of everything from everywhere, this Jewish canopy-prayer could well be pertinent.
Visually it provides us with a square-based pyramid of protection in this room, connecting above with the Almighty, Sh’khinah, keeping watch

.A lot depends on whether there is a protective mark also, on the ceiling’s centre beam.

You can take this still further.
This pyramid symbol, is it also the alchemical symbol for fire? It may just be possible to imagine an invocation here of the archangel associated with fire (Michael), to protect the timber-framed house. This use of fire to protect from fire, is very much an example of what is termed ‘magical thinking.’

And yet, the symbol for fire is the tetrahedron: all triangles, base as well. The one in the house is a symbol that moves from square, that is, earth, to air and fire: it is a symbol of solidity plus power – Strength.

But then, why just this room? Why not the whole timber-framed house? It was once two houses, but is now combined at the fire section, providing an open central hearth and chimney. Even this is not a clean half-and-half division; neither was a four-square house.

Is it to protect the owners during sleep, childbirth, death even: all the most vulnerable times of one’s life?

I have to admit I became very fond of Griselda in the short time we were there. She is very generous with her time, and has boundless energy. Lovely woman.

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And here below is the Trust’s own labyrinth, based on the site’s existing well. The alignment of the diagonal has some connection with the constellation of Orion. Maybe the angle of the belt?

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For further on the writing of Alan Garner, see the chapter on The Stone Book, in my GIFTS OF RINGS AND GOLD, Amazon kindle, 2016.
Earlier version: http://alangarner.atspace.org/articles.html