Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Necropolitan Life: How Christians lost their groove-- or grave?

This is from a teaser (although a dozen years ago there was an alphabetically organized and quite comprehensive site on-line that I suspect was what became the book from which these few teaser entries are taken) under "Dead" from Conor Kennedy's book Ancient Ireland: A User's Guide (Killala, Co Mayo: Morrigan Books). (Image: Ennistymon Cemetery.)

I found this link via Aniina Jokinen's meta-archive. She's compiled an on-line "Anthology of British Literature" using public domain (so pretty stilted, but I appreciate the immense effort!) translations of earlier texts as well as later ones at Her ""Letter from the Editor" at this site's root address tells how as a college student (at Temple) she began this in 1996 to gather sources and texts on-line. It grew into a from a single posted page on Middle English sites into a massive library of Medieval- Renaissance- 17c and now18 c texts and supplemental materials, all from free sources. She is right in explaining the value of her site to those of us outside universities with massive database subscriptions. She does apologize for giving in and putting Google AdSense on her site finally to help meet expenses, but also mentions that the ads can be helpful in alerting her to books she'd otherwise have missed. A worthy project, and as the editor's just entering her thirties, this looks like a labor that her love will continue to nurture for many more years. (I sent her a thank-you note today-- as one independent scholar to another.)

At the site, of course, there are many sub-divisions. Gathering both musty tomes scanned by volunteers (thanks again) and modern data from, well, folks sort of like me and you reading this who add our widow's mite to the electronic collection box, the site's quite graphically handsome and well organized. Luminarium collects information from those late Victorian-early 20c versions of texts as well as late 20c-early 21st c online sites (will these seem as quaint a century from now?) One category offers many useful links to "Irish Literature, Mythology, Folklore":

The teaser is from an A-Z of Ancient Ireland site linked from the Irish Lit (etc.) site. But the abecedarium in a manner that would madden Umberto Eco's monkish bibliolators and bookish enumerators only goes to "D," and a few entries at that under those four letters.

So, wanting more, I tried contacting Conor Kennedy ( a year or two ago to ask where his book could be found; I had skimmed it when visiting the Cruachan Ai visitor's centre near the site at Tulsk in 2004. (In fact, I sent another note right now, just in case.) No reply from the author (so far), strangely enough, as his site sells his newer novel. But this entry, whatever your position on its concluding sentence, summarizes an argument that necrologists of the 19c have advanced-- among them Philippe Aries. I broke up the entry into three paragraphs-- the typeface is awfully small at the original site:


Victorian municipal graveyards marked the end for Christianity. Up to then people were buried round their churches and places of worship. The living prayed surrounded by their dead; they had a reason to visit Church every sunday, a psychic reason which had nothing to do with doctrine, rationale, or even with faith. It is part of us to visit our dead and there, in the presence of we-know-not-what, communicate with the world of Spirit. Once the huge hygienic cemeteries were constructed the link was broken; there was no reason to go to church anymore, no psychic pull, as it were. This is the real reason Christianity lost its grip on the masses.

The decline of religion has nothing to do with the Industrial Revolution or the rise of a better educated type of individual. Individuals nowadays are more sheep-like than ever, following the diktats of advertiser and lifestyle guru with slavish obedience. No. Christianity went into a nosedive of decline because of the construction of large cemeteries away from the churches. It has now petered out as a mass religion in the Western World. Ancient man was very attached to ancestors. In Ireland a whole archaeological class of tomb ('court cairn') were constructed in such a manner as to accommodate ritual beside or, in fact, inside the ancestral graves. The nature of this ritual is obscure, but perhaps we may be guided by the practice of certain peoples in the present day world in 'less developed' areas. These people, on a particular day, journey to their ancestral graves, take out the corpses or bones or whatever, dress them up in clothes, and party! The concept of personal spiritual salvation or immortality was not as strongly developed in the ancients as with us. Their concern was more with the psychic cohesion of the tribe or group. Individual freedom is a luxury created by group effort. Paradoxically, the more successful the group is at creating the conditions for individual freedom, the sooner it collapses !

In the ancient scheme of things a person developing individuality was regarded as a threat to the leadership and promptly eliminated. 'Leadership' represented the spirit of the group and had to be protected. This concept developed into the 'Divine Right of Kings' of later eras. Anciently then, the psychic cohesion of the group was its strength; this was a force that reached backwards in time through the ancestors, and stretched to the future through the young. Modern man does not have psychic cohesion. We have no graves, as such, and we slaughter millions of our children in the womb for our convenience. Essentially we are suffering from a psychic madness; this goes undiagnosed only because we enjoy the symptoms !

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