For a long old time, I subscribed to the idea that the phrase “The Exception Proves The Rule” was contradictory as it’s generally used. After all, if there’s an exception there can’t be a rule, right? A rule means something holds all the time. Right?
So, like many people, I glommed onto the idea that this was an old phrase which used the word ‘prove’ in its old sense of ‘test’ – as in ‘proving grounds’. That way it makes sense: the existence of an exception tests the idea of there being a rule. Right?
It turns out, as I later learned, that it’s really nothing to do with testing, and that actually the phrase works perfectly well even without linguistic gymnastics because of course there can be exceptions to rules. It’s probably a rarer rule that doesn’t have at least one.
For example, there’s a rule that says I can’t drive over 30 mph along the road past my house. That rule applies to everyone at all times. Except for emergency vehicles responding to a call and displaying their blue lights (with sirens as appropriate). Under those circumstances there is an exemption for them — but the rule still holds for me and everyone else.
Now imagine you’re a future archaeologist, and you’re looking for evidence to support your radical hypothesis about 21st-century road regulations back in the days of this supposed ‘internal combustion engine’ of yours, you pseudoscientific kook, you. And you unearth some document that says, “Emergency service vehicles may exceed 30 mph when responding to a call if they display their blue lights”.
Reading this, you can not only see that emergency service vehicles are exempted from a speed, but you can infer that others are not so exempted. Obviously it doesn’t tell you everything else about the subject: you don’t know how an ’emergency service vehicle’ is defined, or whether this 30 mph limit holds everywhere, and so on — but you can see that there is a rule. The specific exception you’ve found written down proves its existence.
Good for you. Have a Nobel prize.
Anyway this was all brought back to me at the Asgardian Heathen Festival recently when Suzanne and I attended a talk on Anglo-Saxon Heathens. It was our first day at the festival, and the first workshop we attended. Speaker Pete Jennings covered, among other areas, the subject of the Christianisation of Britain, which is typically said to have occurred around the AD600 mark — the Roman military having paxed out and withdrawn to the beleaguered continental empire in 410, from which point Angle-Saxon-Jute migrations and possibly invasions of Britannia began*.
The Romano-British, with no legions to defend them, were pushed back into the areas into which they themselves had previously pushed the Celts — modern-day Scotland, Wales and Cornwall — while Angle-Saxon-Jute culture began to spread across what would become the future England.
With the ASJs came a brand of Heathenry comparable to, though notably different from, that of the Norse with which I — and popular culture — are probably more familiar. They had the same gods, for the most part, but with slightly different names (Woden to Odin; Tiw to Tyr), and a somewhat different worldview surrounding them. One notable example, as I’m informed, was in their view of the prospect of battle. When the raven banners flew, the Scandinavians would tend to view it with a considerable helping of fatalistic glee:
“Spears shall be shaken! Shields shall be splintered! A sword day! A red day, ere the Sun rises! Ride now! Ride! Ride to ruin, and the world’s ending!”
–King Theoden of Rohan; also like Every Viking Ever probably
Whereas the Anglo-Saxons took a rather more Dweenle-esque attitude towards it all:
I think I may be getting distracted. Back to the point: throughout the ASJ settlement and subsequent cultural dominance of England, laws and edicts were being regularly enacted to prohibit certain manifestations of pre-Christian pagan practice and tradition. This suggests — obliquely — that these practices were still being observed: why take the trouble to explicitly ban something no-one’s doing?
And that these laws and regulations continued to appear well into the 1000s suggests that the old religions hung on, at least in part, for quite a lot longer than we might be used to assuming. Probably not to the extent that we could posit — as early-to-mid twentieth-century pagans liked to do — the uninterrupted descent of a fully formed pre-Christian ‘Old Religion’ into the modern day; but at least to the point of being able to say that a number of practices, and possibly the beliefs they were founded on, survived far beyond the traditional point of the ‘complete’ Christianisation of Britain.
* This is why, although it’s fine to think of yourself as ‘Anglo-Saxon’ if you feel an affinity for that element of your descent — I give significant attention to the indescribably diluted, barely detectable Roman part of my heritage after all — it is as dumb as bricks to claim that that makes you “indigenous British”. Sure, you may have “indigenous British” blood. In fact whoever you are, it’s mathematically almost inevitable. I have “indigenous British” blood, most likely. Probably so do most white Europeans at the very least and quite probably everyone else as well by this stage. But in neither your case or mine would that “indigenous British” blood be significantly more detectable than my Roman blood, so it’s a conceptual link more than anything tangible.
And you can call yourself Anglo-Saxon and claim it makes you ‘true English’ all you want if that shit matters to you. Just remember that the original English were settlers and sometime invaders who actually did take over the place, displace the locals and nick all their jobs.