Author: Jonathan David Baird

Born and raised in the South Mountain area of Appalachia. Jonathan David Baird has worked professionally as an archaeologist since 1994. He has a masters degree in English literature from Fort Hays State University. His focus of study was the influence of Darwin's theory on late 19th century Gothic horror literature. He also has a masters from Ft Hays in American history with a focus on the frontier and frontier mythology. Jonathan has an avid interest in medieval combat and fought at Battle of the Nations (the world championship of medieval combat) in 2017. Besides medieval combat his interests include traditional skills, primitive technology, and ethnobotany. In 2014 Jonathan was elected and served for for two years as one of the district supervisors for Soil and Water in Burke County, North Carolina only leaving due to his move out of the district. Jonathan blogs at NukeMars.com (A Journal of Speculative Reality), he has written for and edited several anthology collections, he writes comics and his comic Dark Maiden debuted in the top ten ecomics in the world, In 2018 Jonathan completed the MFA program at Lindenwood University and is currently working towards his PhD. Jonathan is also a Melungeon. Melungeons are a tri-racial group (Portuguese, African, and Native American) originating in the Appalachian Mountains.

Melungeon Redux

While this blog/journal is mainly for my ponderings on speculative reality. At heart, I am a science fiction writer or at least a writer of magical realism nothing here is meant to be taken as anything but the ramblings of my fevered imagination. I may write about intellectual birds or space travel from time to time, but those things are meant to be taken with a large grain of salt. On the other hand, sometimes I write about topics that do have some reality, this is one of those topics.


     I was told I was white. I guess I am. I was white, but growing up if I grew my hair long it curled tight. Tight enough that I was constantly questioned. I remember the questions being asked over and over “Is that a perm? “…white boys don’t have hair like that.  I have a vivid memory of being at a local park in Valdese North Carolina (McGalliard Falls). I was maybe ten years old not much older. This kid (who was white) just kept asking over and over if I was a girl because I had a “perm”. (A perm is an artificial tight hair curl). It was so persistent and even angry that I remember it as if it happened yesterday. This would happen again when I was about sixteen and in high school. I was asked the same question this time by an African American student. The question was almost the same and made with the same persistence. By sixteen I had a goatee and I was obviously not female. The hair seemed to bother them, it was out of place on me. No possible way that was natural, or so they thought. I began to wear my hair short. In college I tried to grow it out again. It was called a “white afro”. I suppose in hindsight it was. I never had an inkling it was anything else. I was white?

      I took a DNA test a few years ago not expecting to discover anything strange, but because by then I was an archaeologist and it was just another avenue to the past. I was white, I wasn’t going to discover anything but what countries my whiteness originated from…I was white, but it turns out not all white. There was so much more in that DNA test than I expected. African very specifically Congolese, Native American, in fact, more Native American than my wife had in her test and her mother was a member of the Cherokee nation. South Asian more specifically Papua New Guinea and Vietnamese. I was still mostly white but somehow I wasn’t.  The hair thing started to make more sense at least.  

      I discovered a word. Melungeon, I had heard the word before. It had been in an offhand sort of way. Mixed race people who lived in the Appalachian mountains, who looked like whites but sometimes had dark skin or kinky hair.  I was born in Appalachia my parents had been born here and their parents before them, although my father’s family had come from Atlanta in the 1920s. My Mother’s family had been here since the 1700s. Living in the same isolated area, marrying into four or five of the same families for two hundred years.

In the last article, I discuss how I went looking at old photos. I found a photo in my mother’s things that was of an African looking man with two girls standing beside him. I asked my mother. Who are these people? “Oh, that one girl is my grandmother I don’t know who the other is or who the black man is.” She honestly didn’t know who the “black man” was. She had never been told.  The family had whitewashed their history the generation before she was born. She had no idea.



          I asked my grandmother’s brother who this “black man” was. He reluctantly admitted that was his great grandfather.  The DNA was beginning to make sense. At different family gatherings, the people in my grandmother’s generation began to come clean. Yes, they were Melungeons, but the man in that picture wasn’t African…according to them he was white. The African ancestor was my great-great-grandfather, the son-in-law of the man in the picture and the father of the dark-haired girl, George Thacker.  George Thacker had come from Ohio to marry my great-great-grandmother having never met her. (This is another story that involves another level of family intrigue that I am just getting into). George Thacker was mulatto. The son of Ivory Thacker and probably the nephew of Edwill Thacker an early civil rights pioneer, who had brought a lawsuit prior to the Civil War that gave mixed-race people the vote in Ohio. George Thacker was black according to family lore, not his father-in-law. That was the final word on that matter. They were right, the man in this picture was not African.



   My second cousin had her DNA tested much as I did. She was looking for her own answers. She is my mother’s first cousin.  Genetically she and I are also first cousins. We are Mountain people and Melungeons and because we come from a very isolated community there had been inbreeding up the line which left us closer genetically than we might like to admit. This genetic closeness did answer some questions. Because her great- grandfather was George Thacker and George Thacker was my great-great-grandfather and he was not part of that isolated genetic community. Any DNA she had that came from him should be roughly half shared by me. Sure enough, I possessed exactly half the African DNA that she had. We did, however, have the exactly same amount of South Asian and Oceanian DNA. Our family had lived in the same mountains since the 1700s. How did we even have South Asian or Oceanian DNA? I had thought at first the DNA reading was mistaking Native American DNA for Asia. We certainly have Native American DNA in the mix, and thinking back to the picture maybe we were confusing a very native looking man for African?


Further DNA sleuthing however pinpointed the sample which showed as South Asian/Oceanian to a mixture of the Dai people of Vietnam and natives of Papua New Guinea with over 90% certainty. The Native American hypothesis vanished. Somewhere in the 1700s, a South Asian person or a South Asian family had arrived in Western North Carolina. The man in the picture was not African. The man in the picture was of South Asian ancestry.

  

The inset spreadsheet is my cousin’s information confirming the Oceanian DNA as Papuan at the same percent confidence as my own sample

I tossed around for a theory. A popular Melungeon theory is that they descended from pirates that abandoned their ships and headed into the mountains.  I don’t discount this totally, but it is unlikely. It is very likely that my ancestor was a South Asian slave brought to colonial America in the late 1600s or early 1700s. Many of these slaves had been brought to Europe and England before they came to the colonies and had learned marketable skills. They also tended to run away because those skills were so tradable in colonial America. Most likely I was the descendant of a runaway who found freedom in the hills of North Carolina and made a life and family there. It is possible my great grandmother married George Thacker to bring new blood into the family without bringing attention to the fact they were not fully white (This is a line of inquiry I am currently following). Thacker could pass and indeed in census records after the Spanish American war he goes from listed as mulatto to white. I now think I know who and what I am…A multi-racial isolate whose family did whatever they could to hide and blend in, even to the point of lying to their own children about who they were and where they came from. I am a mosaic.

The Planet of the Birds

Primitive Terror Bird Warrior

This is the journal of speculative reality. What comes next is as speculative as any article that has been written in this journal. I do not know if this is true, I suspect some of it might have happened the way I will relate this. I have long believed that bird intelligence in some ways rivals human intelligence and if birds were the size of humans with a relatively larger brain they would be the dominant life-form on this planet, but I digress because this was once true.

In April of 2018, I read an article in The Atlantic entitled “Was There a Civilization On Earth Before Humans?” In the article, NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt pinpointed the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) 56 million years ago as the only time in recent history in which the climate suggests that there may have been another industrial civilization on Earth. He goes on to explain why he doesn’t really believe that there was one at that time, but his comments got me to thinking. Did any animal fit the profile of both big-brained and in the right time period to account for elevated CO2 emissions 56 million years ago? Did a creature that long ago create an industrial society? After some searching I found a family of creatures that fit perfectly in that ecological niche and I proceeded to present my findings and speculations at Liberty Con (a science fiction convention held each year in Chattanooga) in July of 2018. This article will summarize those findings and present to you a possible alternate past for our own Earth.

The age of Dinosaurs had gone out with a blast 10 million years before the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) 56 million years ago and a plethora of other animals had evolved to fill the massive gap they had left. One of these creatures had a large brain, an upright posture, and had mysteriously colonized most of the Earth, crossing both oceans and seas. these were the Phorusrhacids better known as the Terror Birds. These birds had a long run in Earth’s history existing from 62 million years ago to just roughly 2 million years ago (some may have existed even longer in isolated pockets). They ranged from 3 foot up to 9 feet tall. They may have had articulated claws on the end of their wing tips (warning this is speculation), and they certainly had large brains. They were a very successful species and dominated the world for millions of years, but because their skeletons do not fossilize well we know much less about them than other species alive at the time.

What we do know is that they were wide-ranging. Probably originating in South America, they crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Africa without the ability to fly or swim great distances. They colonized parts of Europe as well which was at the time separated from Africa by the Tethys Sea and they colonized Antartica (the world was much warmer). North America, Asia, and Northern Europe were already dominated by another slightly smaller cousin to the Terror bird called Gastornithidae. Gastornithidae was similar in size and shape to the Terror Birds of the Southern hemisphere, but seem to have been more likely herbivorous. The Terror Birds however lived up to their name. They were predators and at the top of the food chain. Both species had large heads compared to their body size and were probably highly intelligent.

Terror Bird Scholar


The Case for Intelligence


Does any of this speculation really suggest that the Terror Birds and their cousins were intelligent sapient species much less industrial? It is speculation, but this is what we do know about bird intelligence. A crow with the brain the size of a walnut is considered to have the intellectual capacity of a human seven year old. Crows and other birds can do intellectual feats that we thought only humans could do a few years ago. The Terror Birds had brains close to the size of humans with a similar brain to body ratio. If crows with their tiny brains can rival human children, what then can a bird with a brain twenty times the size be capable of?

55 million years ago the Earth was warm much warmer than today. CO2 had been pumping into the atmosphere from unknown sources. Two species of man-sized birds dominated the Earth. One in the Southern Hemisphere and the other in the Northern Hemisphere. CO2 had been released in two or more pulses lasting around 2000 years causing the PETM. Again, we are speculating, but could this have been the multiple rise and fall of civilizations pumping carbon into the atmosphere and warming the planet? We have two species that are candidates for intelligence dominating the entire globe is it possible they were not always on friendly terms? Could a conflict between two species of birds cause the rise and fall of civilizations. We know that about 33 million years ago the Eocene–Oligocene extinction event occurred. This event is currently considered to have been the result of multiple small asteroid impacts across the Earth resulting in what has been described as a long nuclear type winter and ending the PETM. This event heralded the true rise of the mammals to the top of the food chain. Terror Birds retreated back to South America and never rose again to the position of dominance they had over the entire planet, finally going extinct about 2 million years ago. It was a good run they had been around 20 million years before the Eocene–Oligocene extinction and yes, I am speculating that this was a global nuclear war that finally ended the Planet of the Birds.






Melungeon Dawn

Noah Denton (center) Annie Mae Thacker (left) Unknown (right)

These photos are a testament to what it was to be Melungeon in Western North Carolina early in the 20th century.  In the photo above is my great great great grandfather Noah Denton on his left is his granddaughter and my great Grandmother Annie Mae Thacker. Her father was George Thacker. If we are to believe census records Noah Denton is white, his granddaughter is also white.       

George Thacker on wedding day with wife Jane Denton

This is a photo of George Thacker with Jane Denton on their wedding day in 1910.  George is listed in the census as mulatto. Later in life, George would be listed as white on the census.  In the Appalachian mountains race was not always about the color of your skin many times it was about cultural perceptions.  From all accounts Noah Denton was white. It is claimed in the family that he was Native American and my own DNA test suggests that may have been true. I have much more NA DNA than African although I do have both. It is likely George Thacker was also Native American, his father’s family had been labeled mulatto by Virginia during a period when the state labeled anyone of mixed race Native or African as mulatto. I also have Iberian DNA. Which suggests that the stories of the Melungeons having Portugeuse ancestry may have some truth to it.

       The interesting thing about this is how secretive this information was for so many years. I did not know any of this information about my ancestry until I took a DNA test.  My generation and my mother’s generation had not been informed of our heritage. It was a secret I suspect that many would have taken to their grave. That secrecy is changing. My mother’s family is beginning to embrace their heritage. They are becoming more open about who and what they are. Some of the stigma is falling away. Are we seeing a new start, a dawning of Melungeon consciousness? I will be writing more about Melungeons in the coming months as I learn more of the secrets surrounding them. It is time we find out more about these mysterious mountain people. 

Dark Maiden Issue Number Two is out Now!!

Dark Maiden Issue Two is out now on Amazon. It is the continuing story of the resurrection of Joan of Arc in the modern world.  Three months have past since she was “rescued” from heaven by Satan. What price will Satan extract from Joan for her freedom? In issue two God has sent the archangel Barachiel to retrieve Joan and bring her back. Her only chance is to retrieve the Sword of St. Catherine. A magical blade that can vanquish even the most powerful celestial beings. 

Blackwashing or Blackface; The Hidden Institutional Racism in the Entertainment Industry



by Jonathan Baird


       What is blackwashing? Blackwashing is the move to transform the race of a traditionally white entertainment property such as “James Bond” to one that is more ethnically diverse. It has traditionally been used as a term of negativity, representing pushback from the white power community towards the inclusion of people of color in popular entertainment. In this article’s context it will be used as a convenient term for the intersectionality implicit in the entertainment industry.  This paper will further attempt to address the continuing collusion between entertainment and the culturally normative public in their efforts to sanitize diversity in media.  The push to blackwash and gaywash established characters in film, literature, and TV comes from essentially the same racism and misogyny that brought us blackface and minstrel shows. It is a calculated ploy by the largely white entertainment establishment to marginalize and stereotype black and LGBTQIA cultures. These “washed” characters are nothing more than blackfaced white heterosexual men. A safe, acceptable characterization that is internally white with a facade of diversity.  An alternative that can be presented to the cisgender culturally static public for their amusement. These characters in turn harbor no real danger of displacing white hegemony.

      If we can accept that the push to blackwash traditionally white characters is simply a modern version of black face, then we can look beyond the façade of diversity that the entertainment industry is currently projecting and see the real ethnocentrism of those who control the industry. A quick look at the money behind Hollywood, television, major book publishers, even internet entertainment executives will reveal a slate of racially homogenous faces. Even when we note the odd pocket of diversity, these men or women are not pushing diversity for the sake of any social justice paradigm. These pushes for diversity are merely a new coat of paint applied to the faces of  established properties. A safe way to portray a minority character without exploring the deep connection between race and culture. Black skin, but white on the inside, a calculated minstrel show that appeases minorities and poses little existential threat to whites. While you will hear the odd cry of reverse racism applied to these properties when they are diversified, these are cries of the hard core extremists who will never accept diversity in entertainment.

        When we look at why this is happening it is little wonder that we see the practitioners of this farce defending social justice and cultural diversity. Those in Hollywood and beyond have a vested interest in the money that an emerging diverse society has to offer them. It is not surprising they mask their characters in diversity. It is also telling that these characters are still culturally white. Re-marketing established characters as new and diverse maintains the minority white audience while pandering to the new globally brown marketplace. What then is the essential difference between what entertainment producers are giving the public and the minstrel shows of the late nineteenth century? Was there a mandate to put on minstrel shows? The underlying reason for the minstrel show was both to belittle minority characters and pander to the entertainment potential of the unusual without exposing white audiences to actual diverse actors.  Blackwashing comes from the same type of intersectional behavior. It is microdiversity. A method of pandering to both minority and white audiences by providing safety from unexpected cultural confrontation while limiting new and culturally stimulating minority characters from being established. The fact that these examples of diversity are simply blackface is the result of systematic racism.

    You can’t deny the underlying racism that is involved when one rebrands an existing character as “Black”, “Gay”, or “Female”. “Black” Spiderman will always be defined by his color.  The same can be said for properties such as ”Black” James Bond or “Female” Doctor Who. A compromise that is something lesser than the original and must be defined by their secondary characteristics. When the character is differentiated from the original merely by his skin color, his worth is bundled up in historic and cultural racism. Real cultural diversity would be the creation of new characters that stand on their own merits and are not defined by cisgender and white cultural hegemony.

Hounds of God


This has been edited to add a link to the comic on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07JVSL8CH 

My new comic is going to launch this weekend. Hounds of God pits werewolves against all the creatures of hell. The premise is based on a court trial in Jurgensburg, Sweden in 1692 in which a man name Theiss of Katenburg was placed on trial for blasphemy. He claimed to be a “hound of God” a werewolf in the service of good who fought the minions of hell. This comic updates the story bringing it into our modern mythology of zombies and vampires. What can a defender of good do when the armies of hell are unleashed on the world. Read the comic and find out.

You can find the e-comic at my author’s page on Amazon http://amazon.com/author/jonathanbaird or come see me at cons for a physical copy. I will post direct links when the comic is available.

Dark Maiden Number One is now on Amazon Kindle

 
 
Going to promote this like crazy this morning. This comic is the first issue of a three issue limited series. The proceeds from this book will go entirely to getting myself and my wife to Battle of the Nations to fight for Team USA in Italy. Here is a link so those who aren’t familiar know what Battle of the Nations is… https://www.youtube.com/user/battleofthenations

The Last Jedi Fixes The Force Awakens

The Last Jedi fixes the problems with The Force Awakens and returns it to the hero’s journey. While there are parts of The Last Jedi that could and should have been cut out of the movie. The Poe Dameron comedy hour along with the entire Finn and Rose adventure did nothing to advance the plot and needed to be expunged. The movie was also too long. Other than these two problems the movie is not only worthy of the name Star Wars it returns us to the original vision which was the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell wrote his seminal work on that journey in 1949 with the publication of his book Hero with a Thousand Faces. George Lucas has stated many times he used this as the template for Star Wars.
Heroesjourney.svgRian Johnson has fixed the scattered mess that had broken the journey in The Force Awakens and has firmly placed Rey back on the path. One of the criticisms of the movie is that Rey is a Mary Sue. A Mary Sue is a character that can’t fail. The Mary Sue possesses knowledge and power that is unbeatable. This may have been true of the previous movie but Johnson has given us a character with flaws and fallibility. Rey constantly fails. She is not able to persuade Luke to return and lead the rebellion. She is unable to defeat Snoke, who treats her like an ineffectual rag doll (no Mary Sue would stand for that).  Her greatest failure was her inability to bring Ben back from the darkside or at least from the middle ground where he seems to thrive. It seems the complaint is really that Rey is a natural at fighting with the light saber and at using the force. The problem is that a hero is necessarily heroic and gifted with skills. Like all heroes who have taken the journey they must be special in some way. Gilgamesh has the strength of the gods, Odysseus was unnaturally cunning, Arthur had a magical connection with the land that made him King. Rey has the ability to become one with the force. It is all the same on the journey.

If we look at the hero’s journey Johnson has reset Rey and placed her back on the correct path to adventure. Rey answered the call to adventure in The Force Awakens and then sought out training from a Jedi Master (mentor). Luke has rendered his supernatural aid. The movie has her firmly facing the “threshold guardians”.  Snoke and Kylo Ren represent the guardians of power and knowledge. Defeating them and learning her heritage becomes a transforming event.  The movie ends with the rebellion shattered and the new Empire rising. Rey has shown she has become confident with the force, she has been changed by the events, will Rey complete the hero’s journey?

This next part is speculative

Here is how I believe the Hero’s journey will play out in the next movie(s)

I suspect Rey represents Gilgamesh and Ben represents Enkidu (Enkidu was the companion of Gilgamesh) in Johnson’s overall story. If so it is very likely Rey and Ben will come to respect each other for the yin and yang they represent in the next installment (or they will be forced to work together) and go on to fight some great evil that threatens the balance (or both the rebels and the Empire). Most likely this great evil they need to overcome will be a relative or a person Ben is emotionally attached to. This is because Enkidu’s fatal flaw is uncontrollable emotion. I believe this evil may be a clone of Anakin masked as the new Vader.

Ben will die or be mortally wounded in defending Rey from the evil which she will defeat. In the end his spirit will ascend to become a force ghost but this will be after Rey journeys to discover some cure for his condition but ultimately failing. I would guess his ghost will be a different color representing his not evil but not good nature.

Rey will then return to the rebels and the empire to heal the divide between them, becoming the first empress and titular head of the New Imperial Republic. this is how I would script it if they are following the hero’s journey. 

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Pink America: The United States as a Native American Nation


I have been doing research for several years on the influence of Native American culture and genetics on early frontier European culture. At some point, I mean to write a book detailing my research into just how important this influence was on America and how it created a very unique culture from that of the European mainstream.

The most important thing rarely mentioned by historians when writing about American history has to be how deep the influence of Native Americans has been on American culture. Across the American landscape everywhere you look there are words in the local native languages. Parks, buildings, roads, cities, and even the states themselves bear the mark of our native history. It may surprise the modern reader when historian Jill Lepore concludes that, “most colonists considered the native language barbaric, even satanic.”[1] This seems antithetical to the notion that so much of the country is named with native words. Even in New England, the name of the state of Massachusetts comes directly from the native language. The state was named after the very people that the Puritans seemed to despise. How does the European colonist go from racial hatred and distrust of a people to venerating them on such a scale? This disconnect would suggest that the answer lies in a cultural cognitive dissonance. American society both embraced and rejected native culture and out of this mental aberration was born the duality of enshrining natives as both noble and savage. Could this veneration be the reason most American’s claim native ancestry, or is there something deeper?

In Lepore’s book, The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origin of American Identity she attempts to find the answer to the question of what it means to be American through analysis of both sides of King Phillip’s War. While it is an interesting premise, there is some creative license taken with presenting the native side of a war in which very few written records exist. This means that the majority of the written records must come from the colonial viewpoint. Something that is interesting to note is the inability of the average colonist to write. Lepore suggests that while many could read a little that writing was beyond most of the colonists, “and as many as 40 percent of men and 70 percent of women could not even sign their name .”[2] This suggests that even the colonial side of the conflict is not adequately chronicled. We see a skewed view of American character, a view from the top down rather than across the board. So can we know what the average colonial really thought about their native neighbor or are we seeing in this history what the elite want us to see and what they wrote about their native neighbors? Theirs is a narrative that fits the expansionist governmental viewpoint rather than touching on the view of the common man and even the common native.

Another of the problems of looking at this from the perspective Lepore takes is that New England, while long held as the cultural epicenter of America, is only seen that way from within. While popular culture places the Puritans at the very heart of the founding of America as a nation, nothing really could be further from the truth. Their influence while pervasive in academia and as the progenitors of the American university system lacks the true character that makes America unique. The Puritan character is static and unforgiving a people who seem to revel in conformity. This is not the America of the frontier, which so influenced the works of historians such as Frederick Jackson Turner. While Lepore makes some valid points, her thesis is flawed. The American character is not to be discovered in names, in the Puritans, or in wars against the natives. The American character is found on the frontier and the people moving with the frontier. The American character is a product of constant change and evolution. A character that must embrace individuality and face adversity through action and flexibility not static conformity. Each step into new territory brings a new tribe, each different from the last, and each language confronted for the first time. The American people were forged from a union of native culture with European outcasts. The elite for all their words did not forge the American character. The American character was forged through cultural conflict on the most basic level and that character was often tempered by blood. Shiploads of men were coming from Europe into the newly opening frontier. Those same ships were not as packed with women. Yet most of these men end up married with families. Is it possible that the real forging of America was a union of blood as much as a conflict of shed blood?

Historian Ned Blackhawk is right in concluding that, “violence both predated and became intrinsic to American expansion.”[3] However, Blackhawk and to an even greater extent Lapore overlook some of the more culturally important narratives that were going on behind the scenes. While Lepore and Blackhawk both concentrate on the big picture of empire and war, these same Native Americans who would later succumb to war, by whatever name it would be called, had also been in contact with European colonists. Many of these natives especially on the East Coast had been in contact with settlers for centuries. The common colonist had no interest in war or conquest. These Europeans would often take native wives and learn native skills to deal with the frontier. In Sixteenth and Seventeenth century America it is the mother who does most of the early child rearing and it is quite possible that the number of native wives in the early colonial periods have been vastly under-counted. Current DNA data suggests that Native American ancestry among people of European descent in the United States is more common than had been previously thought (I myself have been tested and discovered I have Native American ancestry). It may be interesting to note that many of those men counted as European in early American society may have had grandmothers who were full-blood natives. This would suggest that the culture that fought against the natives for conquest of the frontier was not fully European but a mélange of native and white. Does blood quantum make you a native or does culture? That is probably the most important question to ask. If most Americans whose ancestors have been on this continent for over a hundred years have one or more native ancestors (usually female) does that mean they have at least in some small part native cultural holdovers? What does this mean for American society and our view of how we came to be? It may suggest that the cognitive dissonance which plagued Americans in the first years of the Republic, seeing natives as savage and as noble, was not a conflict between competing ideas about Native Americans, but a cultural conflict in which we see ourselves embodied in those that went before.  Were we actually a nation of European colonists or a Native American Nation? Cotton Mather might not like the answer.

Bibliography

Blackhawk, Ned. Violence over the land: Indians and empires in the early American West.

Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Lepore, Jill. The name of war: King Philip’s War and the origins of American identity. New

York: Knopf, 1998.

     [1] Jill Lepore, The name of war: King Philip’s War and the origins of American identity (New York: Knopf, 1998), 222.

      [2] Jill Lepore, The name of war: King Philip’s War and the origins of American identity (New York: Knopf, 1998)

     [3] Ned Blackhawk, Violence over the land: Indians and empires in the early American West (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006), 9.

Cultural Discordance and the Evolution of Chivalry: Western European Conflict as Moral Imperative

The philosophical concepts of Chivalry develop from a mixture of what seem to be essentially two incompatible ethical systems; The Judeo-Christian ethical system and the warrior virtues of the Celtic/German tribal people of Europe. These two systems on the surface do not seem compatible and taken together should mix as well as oil and water. The ideology of Christ and that of the tribal people of Europe are in opposition in almost every way. So how did these two systems come together to form the underpinning of both Western society and the ethical imperative of the warrior class which dominated that society?

The answer to this question lies within the violent cultural mélange that was taking place in Europe at the fall of the Roman Empire. Out of this stew pot of cultural clash, the ethical system of Chivalry arose. Chivalry combined aspects of Christian piety and ethics with the violent and individualistic hero worship of the European tribal people. Both these groups had inherited what was left of the fallen Roman Empire. The glue that held the church and tribal people together was their belief in the Roman idea of empire. The individualist warrior class that arose from the fall of Rome was a mess of conflicting beliefs. Those beliefs coalesced out of a mixture of German/Celtic barbarism, Roman civil ethics, and Christian mysticism. These cultures which had clashed during the long fall of Rome merged and began a thousand-year domination of the ideology of the Western European upper classes. This emerging ideology would be called Chivalry after the French word for horseman and would arguably become the most important ethical philosophy of the middle ages.

Christian Morality and Chivalry

The warrior class in Europe had internalized Roman and Aristotelian philosophy during the long years of Roman domination, but with the fall of Rome, the Catholic Church was working feverously to instill Christian beliefs and ideas into the ruling classes among these warriors. The Heliand or  Saxon Bible is one of these endeavors. To make Christian theology palatable to the warrior class Catholic monks recreated the New Testament gospels into a story that matched the type of heroic epic that German culture was accustom too. In the Heliand, Joseph and Mary are transformed into heroic warrior figures Joseph a noble “Knight” and Mary a princess. Christ is the son of God and the promised “Warrior King” who will unite all the tribes.  It is a very different interpretation of the Gospel with magic, castles, and mystical heroes. A tale suited to entice the German pagans to convert. The Heliand is very similar to the same type of Arthurian tales that had been popular just after the fall of Rome in Briton and one might wonder if the origins of the Arthurian legends are not a lost mythology created by earlier Briton Christians seeking converts as well. Arthur is undoubtedly a British Christ figure. The once and future King who works to unite all the kingdoms in peace and equality.  A man prophesied to return from the dead and save Briton in a time of trouble. Far too many similarities exist to the Heliand to dismiss this as chance.

In the introduction to the Heliand by Ronald Murphy, he states the Heliand” is intended to bring the gospel home to the Saxons in a poetic environment in order to help the Saxons to cease their vacillation between their warrior loyalty to the old Gods and to the might of Christ”[1]. Murphy believes that this work was never meant to be read in the church itself but was meant to be a Bible for laymen and warrior chiefs. It was to be recited in the mead halls as an epic poem. This epic was just different enough from the original gospel to fit into the warrior beliefs of these German tribes, just as the tales of Arthur fit into this same mold. Both works were geared towards turning a warrior tribal people away from their old religions to the new Christian faith. Sidney Painter in his work sees knighthood as an extension of several different philosophical ideologies. One philosophy dominated by the Germanic tribal warrior’s belief in prowess at arms, a second devoted to the Church militant, and a third devoted to a late outgrowth of chivalry devoted to sensual pleasures. The first two overlap greatly and it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish the holy knight from that one who holds the ideas of Christ first and foremost.  “From the sixth to the eleventh centuries the church strove to curb the typical vices of the warrior class or to turn them into channels it approved”[2] the Heliand was just one of the ways that the church sought to indoctrinate the warrior class. Another method that Painter discusses is the sublimation of violence to more useful efforts that served the church. The crusades were the culmination of these efforts. The Crusades marked the ultimate power of the Church over the ideas of chivalry and the knights that followed those ideas. Here the church could use their influence over the flowering philosophy and develop for itself an army of true believers willing to die for their cause. When Pope Urban II called for the first Crusade on November 27, 1095 little did he realize how well the church had done its job at inculcating the people of Europe with the ideas of Christianity or how heartfelt was the fervent desire to show their dedication to the cause of Christ. This desire was born out of a clash of cultures, the Christian ethics had merged with the tribal aggressive and warlike nature and born from this fusion were the knights of the church.“The response was immediate and tremendous. Cries of  ‘Deus le Volt’ God wills it interrupted the speech”[3]. With the crusades in full swing and the promise of eternal salvation for dying in the service of the church, the ideas of Christian piety would be stamped onto chivalry until well after the Renaissance.

 

German and Celtic Hero Worship and Its role in the formation of Chivalry

 

“About this time, the king of England resolved to rebuild and embellish the great castle of Windsor, which King Arthur had first founded in time past, and where he had erected and established that noble round table from whence so many gallant knights had issued forth, and displayed the valiant prowess of their deeds at arms over the world.”[4]

The ideas that helped bind Christian morals and tribal warrior virtue into a coherent chivalric idea was the idea of the heroic individual. This idea helped navigate the difficulty in creating a warrior class that at once reveled in prideful boasts and great deeds, kept faith with their liege lord, and at the same time gave more than lip service to the ideas of virtue and humility that came with a belief in Christ. A cursory look at European cultural identity will show that the framework on which the chivalric philosophy rested existed in Europe prior to the influence of either Romans or Christians. This framework existed in both the Germanic and Celtic tribes that made up the bulk of the European population. These people had a tradition of what approximated Knighthood only lacking according to Sidney Painter “the nourishment of twelfth-century France to spring into full flower.”[5] By this Painter means that the ideas of chivalry manifested and paired with the ideas of Christian courtesy and the Feudal commitment in the twelfth century and with this fusion it became a complete philosophy. The individualist hero had become the tame individual whose individuality was measured and tempered by his feudal obligations. As the middle-ages progressed Knighthood evolved from the rampaging Beowulf to the courteous Lancelot. Both literature and culture reflected the new individual as hero. The knight transformed in the twelfth century from tribesman to loyal servant while still maintaining his individuality. “[T]he fundamental quality of feudalism is reflected in one of the chief doctrines of their metaphysics: the self-sufficiency of the individual”[6] This individuality allowed the warrior class to embrace the Christian ethic of individual salvation. It encouraged that individual to see himself as a warrior of Christ rather than just a tribal thug.

Of course, the evolution to this feudal knight began long before the twelfth century. We can see the beginnings of these warrior elites in the Romano-Celtic stories of King Arthur. To even consider the ideas of Chivalry without a discussion of Arthur would be to do no justice to the subject. Painter focuses almost solely on the contributions of the Germans and French to the ideas of Chivalry but it is in the sagas and stories of the early Britons that most of our mythology about knights and Chivalry are created. Those twelfth-century French nobles who put the finishing touches on this warrior philosophy certainly had Arthur in mind as many of the stories of Arthur and his knights appear in France at this time. The warrior idea then develops from both the tribal German and the tribal Celtic tradition. The Germans provide Beowulf and Percival as the founding knights of their branch of Chivalry and the Celtic/Romans providing Arthur, and Galahad. The Celtic tradition also gives us the ideas surrounding the Holy Grail as it is a substitution of many different magical cups and bowls in Celtic mythology.

Contradictory Beliefs and Social Cohesion

The fall of Rome was a time of upheaval and of conflict. Small kingdoms rose and fell constantly. Western Europe had been thrown into a dark age without Rome to lead and warriors were constantly vying for power among themselves and with the Christian church. How does social cohesion come out of the conflict between these very different and competing systems of value? Much of this can be explained away by the fact that Chivalry was, for the most part, a very individualistic philosophy and that the individual was allowed to create for himself a way of thinking that could encompass the contradictions. That the church had bent over backward to accommodate that type of thinking is evident by such things as the Heliand and the church’s ability to embrace pagan gods as saints and incorporate the worship of these gods into Christian theology. This allowed Christianity to out compete some of the other religious philosophies that had much more rigid theological rules. This does not, however, explain how a religion that at its core promotes peace and love could be shoehorned to fit the fractious warrior ethics of the tribal peoples of Europe.

To understand this I think one must understand the place the Church gave itself in medieval society. The church became not the tribe itself but an extension of the tribal family. We begin to see church leaders called father and brother. Female leaders become the mother. We have what to the tribal people of Europe is an even more important place for the church than as a political entity. The Church becomes family and as such family is more central to their lives. This fits into the tribal sensibility in a way that other religions lacked. God was the head of the family the Father Head. It was a very personal religious experience very removed from the impersonal gods of both the German and Celtic tribes. This family aspect helped tie the tribal warrior to the Church. The idea of the Mother of God and her mercy may be one of the most important aspects that the Church allowed. This helped bind the warrior class to the teachings of the Church. You constantly find Mary mentioned alongside God in every medieval text, “that is those who love, serve, and honor God and His gentle Mother.”[7] Even here in a text that explains the very rules of war and Chivalry by Geoffroi de Charney you have admonition after admonition to the mother of God. This aspect of the family appealed greatly to the tribal people and the belief that these supernatural beings were here now and part of a larger family of man helped mediate a truce between the conflicting ideas of a tribal warrior culture and the Christian feudal culture that had begun to supplant it.

Late Medieval Knighthood the Culmination of Chivalry

Knighthood and the ideas of Chivalry are intertwined and where one ends and the other begins is a question almost more fit for philosophers than historians. What we do know is that the end result of the conflict between the ethical ideas of Christianity and the individualistic ideas of tribal Europe created the vibrant feudal culture and brought about the rise of the philosophy of Chivalry among the Nobility. As the middle ages waned these ideas slowly began to diminish in importance until they are often little more than philosophical ideas without real-world application. By the end of the 14th century, chivalry had begun to wane. The ideas were celebrated in songs and story but the ideas no longer held true to the newer generations. The tribal culture had been completely subdued and the Church was on the verge of a century of breakup and dissolution because of its own excesses. Without these two philosophical powerhouses to drive it chivalry was to die and be replaced by a more modern and less warrior centered culture. Nobles would hire others to make war for them and these mercenaries would change the face of combat. Chivalry would live on and from time to time be trotted out as spectacle. Even today the last vestiges of the old ideas flitter around the corners of our society influencing us as a culture is ways we may not even realize.

Conclusion

The medieval value system was, in essence, a continuation of all the Western values dating back to at least the time of Greece. We see in the Greek the very same elevation of the individualist hero that we have in the later European middle ages. This is of course because both Greece and Europe share an Indo-European heritage in which the individual warrior/hero is exalted. This idea of the individual hero became somewhat submerged in the state-centered Rome. Where the Empire and civilization become the central figure and the individual sublimated himself to the idea of Rome. The rise of Christianity in the late Roman period pairs perfectly with this idea of the centrality of “State” over the individual where the idea of the state as father is replaced with the idea of “God” as father. You can see that in Augustine’s City of God where he states that the Romans of antiquity were virtuous pagans but that the city while great was one of this world and has now been replaced by his City of God.

The values of the early medieval warrior are not those values cherished by the Romans. The European knight is not a Roman hero who wins because he is part of a greater Empire but something far older; he is the winner of the Hero’s portion. An individual striving and winning by his own prowess.  The values of the Church and of Rome often run in direct contradiction to the earlier ethical ideas of the Germans and Celtics. Stressing humility over pride. Medieval chivalric values become a series of contradictory beliefs that must all be held at once. You are an avenging warrior, who is also a child of a forgiving God. Your must prized value is pride and nobility, but you must also be humble and free of sin. You are a virile man who lusts after women, wine, and song, but you must also be the chaste paragon of virtue who is a symbol of the state. Is it any wonder the poems include someone like Lancelot who was both the noblest of all warriors but who was fatally flawed.  Chivalry contradicts itself because it was cobbled together out of so many different ideas and cultures. The importance of chivalry is that while it was a flawed philosophy it worked and drug Europe out of the Dark ages maintaining order and at least some peace between cultural groups that may have never recovered after the fall of Rome without it and those who followed it.

Speculation

This article attempts to draw a conclusion about the evolution of Chivalry out of several disparate ethical and cultural entities. There is one other ethical system that existed prior to the fall of Rome that may or may not have influenced the rise of Chivalry in Western Europe, The ethics of Aristotle specifically those ethics discussed in his work Nicomachean Ethics. Did these ethics have any influence over the development of Chivalry? The roman warrior elite would have certainly been exposed to Aristotle along with many of the early Christian philosophers. Is it a stretch to believe that these ideas could have trickled down into the warrior elite of medieval society?

Rome and Aristotle’s role in Chivalry

We find in the values of the early Middle Ages a stable system of belief that would eventually be called chivalry. Early modern writers on the subject such as Sidney Painter suggested that Chivalric ideas are directly centered on German and Anglo Saxon ethics and Christian beliefs. He gives very little credit to ideas of a Roman tradition and no mention of Aristotle at all in his book French Chivalry. This may be a mistake, the Roman tradition is all important to the medieval mind. Rome was the center of knowledge and power to conquerors like Charlemagne who sought to recreate Rome in his own Empire. This was not just lip service to these men they believed in Rome and in rebuilding the Roman Empire. They read the histories or had them read to them. Aristotle was an important part of this Roman idea. In Norman F. Cantor’s work The Last Knight he acknowledges that at least late in the late middle ages young knights were being educated in Aristotle, “These short tomes were written by university scholars educated in the Aristotelian tradition, the principles the Mirror of Princes inculcated was drawn heavily from Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics.”[8] This is an important admission and points to the fact that knights may have often been educated in these ideas. If we look at Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics we can see the entirety of what could be called the Chivalric virtues laid out hundreds of years prior to any Western writer referring to them. In book three Aristotle lists these virtues as Liberality, Magnificence, Greatness of soul, Proper Ambition, Gentleness, Agreeableness, Sincerity, Wittiness, Modesty. These read almost the same as the knightly virtues with just slight differences and it is certainly closer to the tribal virtues that informed early chivalry than any of the Christian virtues that contradict many of these. Could Aristotle really be the father of the medieval ethic? Charlemagne certainly sought out and emulated the Roman idea as much as possible. Could his influence have added the ideas of Aristotle to the instruction he gave his own fighters? Or is this just a case of parallel evolution of ideas where tribal customs match philosophical ideas. This subject is worthy of further in-depth study much more than what can be accomplished in this article.

[1] Murphy, G. Ronald, trans. the Heliand: the Saxon Gospel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 16.

[2] Sidney Painter, French Chivalry: Chivalric Ideas and Practices in Mediaeval France (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1964), 66.

[3] Steven Runciman. The First Crusade.(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 43.

[4] Jean Froissart, and Geoffrey Brereton. Chronicles (London: Penguin Classics, 1978), 66.

[5] Sidney Painter, French Chivalry: Chivalric Ideas and Practices in Mediaeval France (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1964), 32.

[6] Maurice De Wulf, Philosophy & Civilization in the Middle Ages (Princeton, NJ, US: Princeton University Press. 1922), 61

[7] Geoffroi de Charney, Richard W. Kaeuper, and Elspeth Kennedy. A knight’s own book of chivalry: Geoffroi De Charny (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 80.

[8] Norman F. Cantor The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era (New York: Free Press, 2004),88.