Friday, 27 November 2009

William Blake, Jesus and the druids

I have a soft spot for William Blake. His art is visionary and timeless. His politics were radical. And he started life as a copper-plate engraver and so would have been a member of my old union the NGA (SLADE). I'm not so sure about his poetry though. And although I have to concede that 'Jerusalem' would be a preferable national anthem to 'god-save-the sodding-queen'- it is of course complete nonsense.

Whilst I can appreciate the radical intention behind the lyrics - a vision of building an earthly paradise in 'England's green and pleasant land'; the only possible answer to 'Did those feet in Ancient Times?' is ... NO!!! However this view is not accepted by Dr Gordon Strachan, a Church Of Scotland Minister who has made a film to re-assert the old legend that Jesus did visit Britain.

The myth is an old chestnut that has been around for generations, and does  have some flimsy connection to recent archaeolgy. We now know that Britain at the time of Jesus , particularly in the South West,  was not some desolate outpost but a vibrant trading economy with trade routes that connected across the Mediterranean to the Levant. But that's about it. Mixed up with this is the legend of Joseph of Arimathea having deposited the chalice from the last supper (AKA The Holy Grail) at Glastonbury. From there on of course it is only a few short steps to the whole Arthurian circus - and Dan Brown.

But more mundanely. Joseph may have been a merchant and  he may have been Jesus's uncle - and so this leads to the speculation that he may have taken  his nephew with him on his trading  trips. All a bit thin but there is at least some semblance of tenuous logic to it. However apparently Dr Strachan is not content with the idea that Jesus may have tagged along with his uncle to pick up some Cornish tin or lead: He argues that Jesus visited the druids of Britain to swap philosophical concepts !

Ignore for a moment the improbability of an almost certainly illiterate carpenter from a small town in Palestine who probably only spoke Aramaic discoursing with celtic-speaking elders who themselves had no written language.

Not too much is known about the druids, but we can be pretty sure that their pagan belief system was simply not the kind of religion given to the calm ecumenical debate of metaphysical concepts. Travellers would  not have visited them for enlightenment like gap-year students going to see ghurus in Goa to find themselves. They would have been rather more likely to find themselves sacrificed and their heads stuck on display on the door of the chief druid's hut. Still, no matter what the implausibility, there is no end to the wishful thinking of religious believers.

I'm just waiting for someone to sign up Dr Strachan's theory for Hollywood - it can't be any worse than the fucking Da Vinci code.


Dave Semple said...

"From there on of course it is only a few short steps to the whole Arthurian circus - and Dan Brown."

Priceless. All complete bunkum of course as you point out. Though the idea of the druids and celtic speaking peoples of these islandsa as barbarians who would prefer to kill you and stick your head on a spike than have a chat is also bunkum - from the two-thousand year old equivalent of Dan Brown, I suspect.

Journeyman said...

Certainly the idea of the Celts as barbarians just waiting to be civilised by the Romans is bunkum.

Celtic society had sophisticated links with all sorts of other cultures. But the contradiction that upsets the 'New Agers' to whom Celtic mysticism appeals, is that it was also a very violent and highly superstitious society.

The taking of the heads of enemies by the Celts is well established. Like many other societies who practice this, the belief was that the taking of the head represented the taking of the owner's power and attributes. It was almost a compliment to an enemy. And there is evidence that these heads were displayed from the pommels of nobles' saddles - and hung outside their doors...

As to the druids we have very little idea what they believed, but it was certainly not close to the monotheism of Judaeo-Christianity.

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