The Nazi Appropriation of Symbols

This post contains swearing, and is quite long. You have been warned.

Now I did promise that this blog wouldn’t be political. I’ve long had a tendency towards writing about politics and current events. And as much as it might annoy you to read it, it also isn’t what I want to spend my time doing. While my conscious preference has always been to write stories and stuff about games and films and such, my subconscious — let’s say it’s that — has always pushed me back towards commenting on what’s in the news and what this or that party or country has done or not done. The entirety of the world’s media and social media is writing about politics and current events all the time, so what is there for me to add, really?

But needs must, because some things are important, and today I’d like to talk to you about Nazis.

Recent events both here in the UK and in the US — I won’t beat about the bush here: it’s the Brexit vote and the election and sort-of-presidency of Donald Trump, respectively — have given rise to an upsurge in what’s being called “far right” activity and sentiment. This has recently culminated in the white supremacist rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the worldwide anger at Trump’s apparent embrace — or at least absence of condemnation — of the rabble of Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen responsible.

I think we can all agree that Nazis are bad. All of us other than Nazis, I mean, but what do their opinions matter? Nazis are shitty people. In fact, they’re traditionally viewed as being amongst history’s shittiest people. By the way, a point on definitions. I hear a lot of euphemistic shenanigans in media about how they’re the “alt-right”, or the “far right”, or — most egregiously apologetic, in my view — “conservatives”. No. Here, they’re Nazis. Or fuckwads, if I’m feeling unprofessional. And I’m not open to debate about how “Hitler was actually left wing” or how “the Nazis were actually socialists“. I’m not interested in how the shitbags and their shitbag-in-chief tried to present themselves. They are what they did — and so are those in the modern day who would, given the opportunity, do similar things.

With that out of the way — taking it as axiomatic that modern Nazis, like their historical forebears, are repugnant people promoting a repugnant worldview — let’s focus down a little, because there’s a specific element of historical and modern Nazism that I want to concentrate on today. Now this particular issue might seem of peripheral importance to you, but please bear with me.

I want to talk about the Nazi appropriation of symbols.

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A Pome Not By Me

When You Meet A Member Of The Ku Klux Klan
By Robert L. Poston (1921)

robertlincolnposton

When you meet a member of the Ku Klux Klan,
Walk right up and hit him like a natural man.
Take no thought of babies he may have at home:
Sympathy’s defamed when used upon his dome.
Hit him in the mouth, and push his face right in;
Knock him down a flight of stairs and pick him up again.
Get your distance from him and then take a running start;
Hit him, brother, hit him — and please hit the scoundrel hard.
Pour some water on him, bring him back to life once more.
Think of how he did your folks in the days of long ago.
Make a prayer to Heaven for the strength to do the job,
Kick him in the stomach: he, a low, unworthy snob.
Call your wife and baby out to see you have some fun,
Sic your bulldog on him, for to see the rascal run.
Head him off before he gets ten paces from your door.
Take a bat of sturdy oak, and knock him down once more.
This time you may leave him where he wallows in the sand:
A spent and humble member of the Ku Klux Klan.

(Kate’s note: Not that I’d ever condone violence, obviously, not even to fascist xenophobes who literally want to oppress and kill people for being different. Obviously.)

Through The Walls

A recent writing exercise gave me a first line — “They’re doing it again; I can hear them through the walls” — and asked me where it went then.

This is where mine went.


They’re doing it again. I can hear them through the walls. It’s been months now and nothing’s been done about it. It really isn’t good enough. Honest, hard-working, decent people shouldn’t be subjected to this sort of outrage. I just don’t need it. But the council won’t do anything. They say it’s not their remit. The police just laugh at me. I even rang the local radio station but they wouldn’t put me through.

I think it’s a disgrace. I pay my taxes: I’m entitled to have someone put a stop to this. But even our useless MP won’t listen; though what can you expect from one of that lot? Well, I’ve had enough. If no-one else will listen, I’ll have to bring out the big guns. They had their chance. They could’ve stopped it before it came to this, but they chose not to. Well, be it on their own heads. They’ve no-one to blame but themselves. I wouldn’t do this if I weren’t driven to it. Now, where’s my pen?

Dear… Daily… Mail…

A Fairly Transactional Aspect

There’s a part of me that’s always been Druid — as long as we’re clear that when I say ‘Druid’ I’m using a pretty damn broad interpretation of the word.

I wouldn’t count by any popular UK definition of the term. I’m not wise in the ways of herbs or trees. I don’t know the stories of the Mabinogion. I don’t revere the ancestors or feel a particular affinity with Celtic culture.

But if someone says to me, “What are you?” — in religio-spiritual terms, at least — I always feel I should have an answer to give them. When I was a tiny kiddie that answer would have been “Christian”, because that’s what I was brought up with. And I still have an easy familiarity with Christianity, even if my understanding of it now, the way I see it and its elements intersecting my life, means I can’t actually be Christian. I’m respectful of Christianity as my family’s religion, and I have a lot of time for it as I do for any religion honestly and kindly held. There are many words of wisdom in Christian teachings, but there are fundamentals of the faith that I just can’t accept for myself. It’s built on concepts and tenets that just don’t work in my head, or in my heart.

So, for most of my adult life — after a brief flirtation with amateur-hour Satanism and an even briefer one with atheism — I’d generally answer the question “What are you?” by saying “I’m a pagan”. But paganism, of course, represents a huge variety of different belief systems. For example, when I first discovered paganism as a Thing You Can Be, it was in the form of Wicca: often considered a sort . I bought many books, read many stuff, and went to meetings — moots — and met people, and discovered that while Wicca seemed to me a lot more personally comfortable and fitting than Christianity ever had, there were paganisms that felt even more snug. If you see what I mean.

It wouldn’t be true to say I settled on Roman Reconstructionism as my ideal form of paganism. Not as such. Many do: there’s a community of people dedicated to restoring the active worship of the Roman gods, such as Jupiter, Mars, Vesta and Juno, and the many, many others the Romans recognised. (Did you know the Romans had a goddess responsible for door hinges? Cardea is her name. The Romans deified absolutely everything.)

To the extent modern society and their own moral structure allows it, Roman Reconstructionists look to rebuild the entire traditional framework of that old religion. Some things they’ve had to remove, of course. Modern sensibilities generally don’t allow for slavery or blood sacrifice — both fundamental aspects of Roman society and religious practice — and most people nowadays would find the Roman attitude to women pretty repugnant. And that’s fine: Reconstructionism doesn’t, or shouldn’t, demand every last detail be mimicked. The gods live in the now, after all: they’re not stuck two thousand years in the past, and they know society’s moved on (for example, having dominion over communications, the Roman god Mercury is the de facto god of the Internet).

But as fascinating as I find Roman history — and I do, and always have — I never felt especially drawn to recreate the rites and rituals that their society revolved around. I’ve never been one for ritual at all, if I’m honest, and the idea of making sacrifice or regular obeisance to appease gods never really struck me as important. The gods may disagree, of course, but I never had the sense this was the case. I’ve always had the very firm sense that, where gods are concerned, I may leave them to their own devices, and they — so far as it pleases them to do so — will leave me to mine.

But something drew me to these particular gods, even though I never really talked to them much. They were how I saw things. They were the shape that divinity took in my mind. One of the reasons for this — as has become clearer to me in recent years — is partially that the Roman gods seem to represent relatively impersonal elements of nature, including human nature. I’ve always had difficulty with the concept of a personal God or gods, one that cares for me and wants the best and gives much of a hoot what I do in life. Which isn’t to say that such an entity doesn’t exist, one or more, but that I don’t feel in any way connected to them.

Instead, my understanding of deity has always been rather mechanistic. Impersonal. The gods — if I’m to use that word for them — simply pursue their own agendas, and will cooperate with me if I serve those ends. Otherwise, things get complicated.

There’s a fairly transactional aspect to the Roman gods, and that’s something that resonates very strongly with me. That’s how my world works. I’ll come to that in more detail in due course, but this is the second of two quite long posts. So for now it’s enough to say that where some religious believers offer prayers to the divine as they see it in the hope that the world will change in the way they hope, for me it’s a little different.

The gods being the elements of nature and sapience, they act without sentiment or favour. The world they’re weaving can be altered, either with their agreement or with their indifference. But there is a price. The key is to know what the price is and be sure you want to pay it. After that, actually finding the way to write up and finalise the contract can be relatively simple.

But it’s not for this post.

A Roman Druid

I’d like to write a little bit about Druidry, and to explain why I refer to myself as a druid, when it clearly isn’t what I am.

Druidry is, today, a fairly broad term, but in truth I do think I push it a little far even by that standard. The original druids were, of course, the ancient Celtic priestly class of legend and occasional bit of written history even though it’s still probably not very reliable.

Though probably a little more reliable than the version you find in computer roleplaying games:

Eh, well.

Years’ worth of popular culture has given us some very specific images and associations. Druids wear white robes – maybe grey or grey-blue; they carry a sickle and a staff. They built Stonehenge and they perform strange rituals there and probably sacrifice people. And at least one of them brews magic potion for a group of indomitable Gauls.

getafix

Is this a more accurate picture, though? Can I do magic?!

No on both counts.

With regard to the accuracy of our modern image of the druids, there are things we know, things we’re told but are suspicious of, and a lot of things we don’t know.

We know they didn’t build Stonehenge. That association has been made long after the fact, and has no archaeological or historical basis.

Stonehenge_on_27.01.08

Really. Not druids.

They were law-keepers, judges and arbiters. That we’re reasonably confident of. We reckon they were probably advisors to chieftains and other Celtic bigwigs (I use the word ‘Celtic’ in the colloquial sense: the various diverse but culturally related peoples living in northern Europe by the time of the Romans). The druids were likely storytellers, poets, bards, and possibly healers and medics. They were priests, most likely; possibly along shamanic lines, or maybe a sort of European medicine man. They could well have been involved in divination and interpreting the will of the gods, and maybe conversing with departed ancestors or the spirits of the natural world.

We don’t know for sure whether there were female druids: history isn’t overly clear on the question. There certainly are now, but as we’ll see, druids are a somewhat different prospect now. Of the originals, we have little written evidence about their nature and their role in society save what’s been committed to us by Romans. And Romans, being in long-term intermittent conflict with the Celtic populations at the time, have to be considered of dubious reliability. For example, as mentioned, we’re told, by the Romans, that the druids carried out human sacrifice. We don’t know whether that’s the case, or whether the references to such practices were part of a Roman propaganda campaign for the consumption of people back home: “It’s perfectly all right for us to invade these lands and enslave these people because they can’t be trusted to look after themselves. Look how barbaric they are. We’re bringing them enlightenment and civilisation.”

(Passing historical note: almost exactly the same rationalisations were used by the British while we were busily trying to dominate everyone in the world.)

Human sacrifice certainly wasn’t unheard of, of course, and the Romans were pretty much experts on it — though they tended to sacrifice more people to entertainment than to the gods. But the point is, we only ‘know’ about it in relation to the druids because the Romans told us about it — and as is the way of conquerors, they’ve told us only what they wanted us to know.

The upshot of it all is that we really don’t know that much about the original druids. So probably a good way to approach modern Druidry is to disregard the original version as much as is possible and concentrate on the modern sort.

There are all sorts of ideas about what modern Druidry — or Druidism, depending who you ask — is all about. There are groups, orders, societies and what’re called ‘groves’ (which are to modern druids what covens are to modern witches), all of which will have their own focus and emphasis. Many modern druids have written many excellent books on the topic. I can recommend the works of druidic pioneers Emma Restall-Orr, founder of the Druid Network, and Philip Carr-Gomm of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids; Cat Treadwell, a priestess and author local to my area; and Gloucestershire author and blogger Nimue Brown.

There are many others, but these writers, and the groups they’re associated with, will give you a pretty good bead on what modern Druidry entails.

Which leaves us with at least three questions. Firstly, why do modern people model themselves on and call themselves druids if we don’t really know what it was all about? And why have I said I’m not a druid if I am, or why do I call myself that if I’m not? And last, if the Romans were the enemies of the druids, how can someone be a ‘Roman Druid’? That doesn’t make sense! It’s an Oxo Moron!

oxo_1455069c

Fnerk. Other stock cubes are available, obvs.

The first question I can’t answer in very short order. It’s a long and complex story, and you might be best — if you’ll forgive the shameless passing of the buck — to read up on the matter at either the Druid Network or OBOD, or consider the Wikipedia articles here and here.

The remaining questions I’m going to try to answer in my next couple of posts, so don’t go away.

I mean, obviously, you can go away. I don’t expect you to sit there gazing at your screen, constantly spamming the F5 key until I get round to posting again. It might not be today. You’re going to have to get some water, at the very least. Don’t underestimate how damaging dehydration can be. Just do check back, is all I’m saying.

Professionalism. I Are It.

​L’esprit du bouton de publication.

Lit. “The spirit of the publish button”.

That feeling you get when you post up a lengthy item about the new Doctor being a woman and the ruckus it’s caused in Certain Quarters, and only afterwards do you realise you obviously should have titled the post The Oncoming Storm.

Bugger.

Sod it. If Cracked can change a title after the fact, I’m damn sure a nothing blog like this can do it.

See! Marvel at my professionalism!

The Oncoming Storm (See? Much Better.)

Woot, yay and so forth. Doctor Who finally did it.

After years of speculation and several seasons of kind-of-on-the-nose-especially-recently telegraphing, the series has announced that the thirteenth (ish*) regeneration of the good Doctor will be played by a woman.

Change has come. And, it seems, not a moment too soon — as someone once said.

Jodie Whittaker was announced in the part in a short teaser following the Wimbledon men’s final yesterday afternoon, and the Internet — at least the British sci-fi watching sector of it — has done its raving na-na. In, as always in these divisive times, two fearsomely opposing directions.

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