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.

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.

An analysis of “At the End of the Mechanical Age” by Donald Barthelme

The story is at its heart a lament for the end of the mechanical age and a critical examination of the superficiality and commercialism that typified that period of history. The story is broken into four parts the first two each contain a separate song. The first song is sung by the protagonist and the second by his companion Mrs. Davis. The second two parts concern the marriage of the protagonist (Tom) and his companion and the last part their eventual divorce. The characters both celebrate the passing of the age but at the same time fear the unknown age coming. Mrs. Davis states that, “I feel in my bones that it will be an age inimical to personal well-being and comfort” (Barthelme).

It is important to note that God makes several appearances throughout the story. Fist he is a meter reader who checks on how much electrify is being used then again he appears to enjoy the destruction he is causing in the wake of a global flood. The story can be seen as an elaborate lament of the death of spirituality. Electricity has been discovered to be spiritual Grace. Man has rendered through science the control over the spiritual. The fact that God is destroying the world once again by flooding it could represent the falseness of God’s promise to man.  These religious metaphors continue into the songs. Our protagonist sings a song about Ralph. Ralph is a beautiful character perfect yet tragically flawed. He is most certainly the embodiment of the Anti-Christ the perfect salesman. He is even described as having hoofed feet and he is “coming” for us all.

Mrs. Davis’ song is no less religious in nature. She sings about a character named Maude. Maude is certainly a stand in for the biblical character of Eve. She is described as being under a church dome and yearning the first “yearn”. Obviously this is an allusion to the temptation of Eve by Lucifer in the Garden of Eden. Maude also named all the tools in the world while I could probably make a sexual reference here it certainly seems she was around at the beginning if she was the one who had the job of naming things much as God gave Adam the job of naming the animals. In the end they both decide they must move on into the new age even if it will be uncomfortable. This seems to place the story into the context of Adam and Eve. Here are two characters who are forced out of their comfortable existence into one of uncertainty and possible strife.

In the second half of the story God is now seen as hiding. First behind a tree (the Tree of Knowledge perhaps) then behind a table (shades of the last supper).  God is more separate from Tom and Mrs. Davis further from them than he had been in the first two sections of the story. Tom tries to speak with God and his thoughts are very prayer like, but God disappears and Tom assumes it is to read the meters again. Here again is an absent God who does not hear our prayers. The story ends with the divorce of Tom and Mrs. Davis. They have a child and then go their own way each following Ralph (commercialism) or Maude (knowledge) but not God. God is manning the generators and ensuring light and grace at the end of the age.

The story illustrates the death of religion in the mechanical age and the rise of commercialism and scientific progress. Man follows that which is rational to him and wrestles the irrational such as the supernatural into rational concepts. Even though we do these things we still seem to need to see the world in terms of irrational belief. The marriage is certainly a study in irrationality. The rules make little sense but we engage in marriage because we still have a sense of magic and spirituality that even the mechanical age has not taken from us.
Barthelme, Donald. Sixty Stories. New York: Putnam, 1981. Print.

Convergent Evolution: an Opinion

About a year ago I created this meme during a discussion on a Facebook group about alien life. The group consensus was that we would never meet an alien race with a humanoid posture or upright bipedal locomotion because it was highly unlikely that this arrangement would evolve independently again. Now I am at best a curmudgeon and at worst an asshole, so I got to thinking about that contention and the more I thought about it the less it struck me as a hard and fast rule.

Evolution is essentially conservative, there is a conservation of form and function in evolution because of the way natural law interacts with living beings. For instance a creature that swims in water on Earth or on a planet 20 light years from Earth is probably going to look roughly the same. Since life seems to favor an aquatic origin as that life emerges from the sea of an alien planet evolution of that terrestrial life may already be based on bilateral symmetry. Of course something like an octopus might be the first creature on land, but at least on our planet the race to the surface favored creatures with hard internal or external structures whose bodies were structurally streamlined. I believe these types would most likely emerge first elsewhere as well.

If my conjecture is correct, that bilateral symmetry is favored by aquatic environments leading to quicker more agile creatures, then that conservation of form will follow onto the land leading to creatures that mimic our own evolution. In the meme above the T-Rex and the Ankylosaurus predate the Terror Bird and the Glyptodon by 60 million years, but the body forms are essentially the same…in fact the T-Rex probably had feathers. What does this mean for future encounters with alien life? First, don’t discount the possibility that creatures with similar capacities to ourselves may have similar body structures. It is very possible that higher intelligence requires a bilateral body plan and whose ancestors went through an arboreal stage of development before developing true upright posture.  Second, don’t discount running into a nightmare like a Tyrannosaurus when exploring alien environments.

This is just my opinion.

Zombie Amalgamation: Origins of the Modern Revenant

The idea of the reanimated corpse shambles along the pages of history, and even before there were written records the undead were with us. The modern iteration of the zombie is not one of these creatures, but it is something new. A revenant fueled on modern fears of infection, and mass hysteria, while birthed from the ancient fear of reanimated corpses. The power of the modern zombie comes from the persistent fear of disease and infection. This infection is then paired with different social, economic, and cultural fears to create an ever evolving, but constantly horrifying creature that has become a staple of modern American and even global popular culture. The zombie is a stand in for all sorts of fears. Romero used the zombie to first lay bare the fear of encroaching infectious communism in Night of the Living Dead then he turned 180 degrees and took a shot at commercialism in Dawn of the Dead. Romero proved that the zombie can stand for almost any modern fear because essentially the mindless, raving zombie is man himself.

Four Distinct Origins

Our modern zombie who slowly ambles or even quickly chases our hero across the film or TV screen is really the amalgamation of four separate monsters from different portions of the world. The revenant, the ghoul, the vampire, and the Haitian creature of the same name, but different attributes raised up by voodoo. All these undead forms combine in the modern cinematic zombie. It wasn’t until late in the twentieth century that all these were finally condensed into one by George Romero that we get the fully formed creature.
The revenant who is sometimes confused with the modern zombie is probably the closest ancient creature to the modern zombie myth. Revenants were undead creatures from Western European mythology that rose from their graves at night after burial to harass and attack the living. Traditionally those killed by revenants did not themselves come back from the dead. Instead like vampires in Eastern Europe the revenants spread disease and death to the living they attacked. Chapter 24 of book five of the History of England by William of Newburgh attempts to lay out a chronological history of revenants and their attacks on innocent people.

It would not be easy to believe that the corpses of the dead should sally (I know not by what agency) from their graves, and should wander about to the terror or destruction of the living, and again return to the tomb, which of its own accord spontaneously opened to receive them, did not frequent examples, occurring in our own times, suffice to establish this fact, to the truth of which there is abundant testimony. It would be strange if such things should have happened formerly, since we can find no evidence of them in the works of ancient authors, whose vast labor it was to commit to writing every occurrence worthy of memory; for if they never neglected to register even events of moderate interest, how could they have suppressed a fact at once so amazing and horrible, supposing it to have happened in their day? Moreover, were I to write down all the instances of this kind which I have ascertained to have befallen in our times, the undertaking would be beyond measure laborious and troublesome; so I will fain add two more only (and these of recent occurrence) to those I have already narrated, and insert them in our history, as occasion offers, as a warning to posterity. (Newburgh)
Revenants were always thought to have been evil personas in life as well and their evil deeds haunted them beyond the grave. The revenant is also killed in a similar way to the more popular vampire. Beheading the corpse and burning it traditionally stop the revenants from returning from their graves. Revenants however do not have a taste for human flesh. They are most often depicted attacking with claws a teeth but not devouring their victims. The revenant is however a mindless killing machine, much like the modern zombie
Ghouls like revenants are undead creatures. They haunted graveyards at night and unlike the revenant they ate the bodies of the dead and sometimes the living. The mythology of the ghoul was originally Mesopotamian and later Arabic but the idea spread into Western culture at the end of the 18th century from the gothic horror novel Vathek.

“At the moment that their attendants were placing two wreaths of their favourite jasamines on their brows, the Caliph, who had just heard the tragical catastrophe, arrived. He looked not less pale and haggard than the goules that wander at night among graves.” (Beckford 99).

Ghouls display some very classic zombie features. These creatures seek out human flesh in Western stories it is usually the flesh of the dead but in Arabic stories it can be either, they are also undead creatures who have left their graves for the land of the living. The biggest difference and like the revenants is that their curse is not transferrable. They may kill the living but they do not infect the living, they are also not mindless often being depicted as cunning hunters.
The vampire unlike the other two early creatures is an infectious disease of a sort. In the vampire we come close to the very modern nature of the zombie. While vampires lack some distinct criteria such as mindlessness, he and his kin are more closely related to the modern zombie than even the Haitian undead which bears its name. Vampires have become creatures of infection and so are the modern zombies. In fact the infectious nature of zombism is what powers the fear of the zombie. Without the ability to infect a zombie would not really be much of a monster. This infectious nature of vampires was not a classical aspect of the monster and other than one or two stories of vampires creating other vampires the infectious nature of vampirism is really a result of an update to the story in the 19th century. Most vampire attributes “are in fact creations of the fictional vampire, as drawn by Western writers of the nineteenth century.” (Wasik, Murphy). As the 19th century wore on more and more was learned about infectious disease and rabies was raging in Europe. Even on the verge of a cure the disease was being linked to vampirism in fiction. Vampires were to come into possession of the most powerful horror that science could conjure…disease. The idea that a sane man or woman could be permanently transformed into a raging blood fueled monster is terrifying. Even more so would be the zombie who is not only a raging infectious monster, but mindless as well.

The final creature needed to create the modern zombie was an undead creature resurrected by magic and controlled by a mystical wizard or witch. The word Zombie or Zombi is relatively new. It is supposed to have been first used in the book History of Brazil by Robert Southey in 1819. The book is online and after an exhaustive search of volume 1-3 in both English and Spanish this elusive first mention of the word was not to be found. Not to be detoured the next mention of zombies comes to us from the Haitian tradition. In Haiti the zombie is the corpse of a person thought to be revived into a sort of half life by a practitioner of voodoo. This necromancer is called bokor. These undead creatures serve at the behest of the bokor, who has removed the living soul from the body and use it to control the zombie. Zombies are not considered to be mythology in Haiti article 246 of the Haitian criminal code mandates that,
“Est aussi qualifié attentat à la vie d’une personne, par empoisonnement, l’emploi qui sera fait contre elle de substances qui sans donner la mort, auront produit un état léthargique plus ou moins prolongé, de quelque manière que ces substances aient été employées et quelles qu’en aient été les suites.“ this roughly translates to “Any qualified attempt on the life of a person, by poisoning , the use made against it without substances that cause death , have produced a more or less prolonged lethargy , however these substances have been employed and whatever may have been the result” (Haiti criminal code)
While zombies are considered people in prolonged states of lethargy induced by chemical substances under the law the mythology of the traditional zombie has little to do with our modern idea. Other than being revived corpses these creatures have very little in common with the popular mythology of the modern zombie. To find the roots of our modern brain eater we must combine aspects of all the undead that have shambled into Western culture.
Modern Amalgamation.

Since the modern zombie is a combination of several creature archetypes from Western literature how did these creations amalgamate into the modern mythology? George Romero most certainly did not create his zombie creations out of whole cloth. His zombies have a very distinct Hollywood linage. White Zombie released in 1932 is the first zombie film. It depicts the traditional Voodoo zombie controlled by an evil bokor in this case played by Bela Lugos. Lugusi plays Murder Legendre who is a white bokor controlling zombies that work on his plantation. In a way this movie is a social commentary on the evils of slavery which ties into later zombie films which often have social commentary at their core. White Zombie is important because it set the stage for the look and feel of zombies in movie. The shambling dead eyes and even a hatred for the living that the dead exhibit in the movie translates to later work that would make the zombie less controllable and more menacing.
The modern zombie would never have developed without the work done by Richard Matheson in the book I am Legend which was published in 1954 and the movie made from the book called The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Prince in 1964. The film was released just four years before Romero was to film Night of the Living Dead and it is without a doubt a direct precursor to both Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Matheson’s book and later movie depict a world that has been wiped out by a virulent virus. The virus kills most people but others it transforms into what are essentially vampires. The vampires have all the classic weaknesses. They can only come out at night, they are allergic to garlic, they can’t stand to see their reflection in mirrors, and they must be staked in the heart and then burned. These are not however the classic vampires in another sense. They are weak and slow. They shamble about exactly how you would expect a modern zombie to do. They do have a limited intelligence and can speak at times, but this seems to be an exception that only certain undead possess. The movie and the book are also social commentary. You discover at the end that not all the vampires are evil and that many of the vampires that the main character hunts down and kills during the day are actually fully human but suffering from vampirism. The moral of the story is a thinly veiled attempt at addressing racism. With his work Matheson sets up almost all the factors you will see in the future concerning zombie films. His work explores contagion, social commentary, post apocalypse living conditions, undead hordes attacking people who have walled themselves off from the outside, and isolation. Isolation is almost certainly the cure to infection but it is also a prelude to fear. Who is to be trusted? Matheson packs all this into his work.
Modern Fears and the survival of the Zombie

Romero picks up where Matheson left off. The importance of these films are that all of Romero’s Zombie movies are social commentaries. In an interview he did with Rick Curnutte in the Film Journal Romero states, “We really were trying to make it as much a metaphor as it was a thrill ride. And I’ve always tried…I don’t know, I’ve never wanted to just do movies about guys in hockey masks with knives, you know? I don’t think that way. I sort of think of what underlies it first.” (Curnutte,Romero). This is at the heart of what makes zombie movies constantly relevant. There is a constant repositioning of the zombie as a social problem. Romero’s zombies are contagious but that contagion is of an unknown origin. In the interview with Curnutte he said, “There were three proposed causes, and we cut two of them out because the scenes were boring and the scenes around them were boring, and that one we left in because it was part of that newscast and it made it seem a little bigger. And that became for a while, people said, “Oh, that’s what happened.” You know, some Venus probe came back and brought some kind of bug. And so I was determined…I don’t want there to be a cause.”(Curnutte, Romero) If the cause were known it may be curable. Romero wanted to keep the audience paranoid and thinking. It worked.
The idea that zombism is an infection becomes real to a modern audience. This realism is important in the staying power of the zombie as a modern monster. Matheson’s vampires were too much a creature of legend. Vampirism is equated with magical thinking. The zombie gave the audience a monster with a scientific cause. A virus that can reanimate the brain and causes the dead body to walk among the living. While this is still a dead body walking around to the modern audience disease, infection, and even inoculation are just as magical. They are things that can’t be seen affecting people in ways that are not understood by the average person. Deep down we see infection as the harbinger of death…why not an undead harbinger.
Zombism as a metaphor for infection and even death was enough to scare the audience but the modern zombie represented much more. Directors like Romero came to link zombies with communism, commercialism, AIDS, terrorism, and even the fear of global warming. Anything that the modern mind feared could be linked to the zombie. At the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty first vampires had been reformed. They sparkled and granted eternal life to good little boys and girls. Werewolves hardly existed on the horror scene replaced by serial killers in masks, who were frightening, but were certainly not world threatening. Frankenstein had stopped being scary the day after the first heart transplant, and forget about the mummy. The mummy was stuck in action comedy. Zombies became kings of horror because the zombie was everything and everywhere. Anyone could become a zombie at anytime.
This brings us back to the real underlying fears of zombism. Infection and Isolation are the currents within the mythology that cause fear to wash over the public. We have talked at length about infection, but what about isolation? In a zombie movie or TV show isolation is the result of the zombie apocalypse. You are left alone in a world of monsters who want to eat you and survivors who want to steal what you have and occasionally they also may want to eat you. You are alone. The reason this is horrifying to the viewer who is not really experiencing a zombie outbreak is the fact that the viewer realizes that they are living in this isolation even without hordes of zombies at their door. Isolation is even more personal than the fear of infection. We all experience isolation. Do we know our neighbors in the twenty first century? Do we trust them? That is a fear that everyone can relate too. It is not a fear that other traditional monsters inspire.
Conclusion

When looking for the roots of the modern zombie the quest can either take you to creatures that are not quite a perfect fit, or to creatures that when combined become the modern zombie. Modern zombies are creatures of modern mythic thinking. They are the embodiment of the fears of modern men written on the template of older monsters. The ancient undead pulling themselves out of the grave pale in comparison to the power modern men have given to our current creature. No monster had the power to destroy the entire world, which was solely the domain of gods in older mythic thinking. The zombie is able to accomplish that feat without a second thought, because infections do not think. Zombies are scary because the zombie embodies any fear we may have as an individual and they embody fears that all humans have such as disease and isolation. This is a very powerful combination. It leaves the zombie in the position of the king of the monsters, a creature so flexible it encompasses any fear.
Bibliography
Beckford, William. Vathek. Paris: Perrin, 1893. Print
Curnette, Rick “There’s No Magic: A Conversation With George A. Romero” The Film Journal. http://www.thefilmjournal.com/issue10/romero.html . Web. 4 Dec 2014.
Haitian Penal Code http://www.oas.org/juridico/mla/fr/hti/fr_hti_penal.html . Web 4 Dec 2014.

Halperin, Victor, Edward Halperin, Garnett Weston, Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, John Harron, Brandon Hurst, Xavier Cugat, and William Seabrook. White Zombie. Los Angeles, CA: Roan Group Archival Entertainment, 1999.

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: ORB, 1995. Print.

Newburgh, William. The Church Historians of England, volume IV, part II; translated by Joseph Stevenson (London: Seeley’s, 1861) Web. 4 Dec 2014

Salkow, Sidney, Robert L. Lippert, Logan Swanson, William F. Leicester, Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter, Colli F. Delli, Gene Ruggiero, and Richard Matheson. The Last Man on Earth. Beverly Hills, CA: Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2007.

Streiner, Russ, John Russo, George A. Romero, Duane Jones, and Judith O’Dea. Night of the Living Dead. New York, N.Y: Elite Entertainment, 2002.

Wasik, Bill, and Monica Murphy. Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus. , 2012. Print.