Thursday, May 24, 2018

“Michael Inside”. The Prison System in Ireland

“Michael Inside”. The Prison System in Ireland

A Movie Review

 
 
Michael Inside is a new Irish movie which looks at the prison system in Ireland and the people who serve their time in it. The film is about a young man who is sent to prison for the first time after being caught with drugs he had stashed in his grandfather’s house who he shares with. In prison he is taken under the wing of an older experienced prisoner who helps him to stand up for himself but also ensnares him in a cycle of violence in the prison itself. We see the emotional and psychological growth and strengthening of Michael with these harrowing experiences. The big question of the film is then: will he become like his father, also in jail, or learn from his grandfather’s advice?

The most important aspect of this new Irish film is its cinematic approach to telling the story. Ireland has a long history of theatre and successful drama which spilled over into its film-making too. Irish films in the past have been worthy and wordy with directors more comfortable with theatrical styles than cinematic imagery. It was also difficult to achieve cinematic lift-off with the gravity of so many winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ireland won four times in the 20th century: W. B. Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Samuel Beckett (1969) and Séamus Heaney (1995), all of whom wrote plays. Not forgetting, of course, Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge, George Moore, Oscar Wilde and Seán O’Casey. The developing language of cinema filtered slowly into Irish film-making either for reasons of fear of audience reaction (more used to theatre) or a lack of an appreciation of the idea that sometimes less is more.

Michael Inside has at times an almost documentary feel to it in the way the prison and the prison officers are portrayed. They come across as empathetic and generally respectful of the prisoners. The director of Michael Inside, Frank Berry, stated the story-line was “researched with former prisoners” and authenticity was desired even to the point of using former prisoners as extras.


The use of the camera has a Tarkovskian feel with long takes, blurring and choreography before the camera. Some scenes like in the grandfather’s house are performed in front of a stationary camera with minimal lighting and wonderful blocking as actors move in and out of shot during the dialogue. Michael’s life outside of prison seems almost as oppressive as inside. Sparse dialogue, sparse rooms and ennui add to this feeling.

The tyranny of montage is felt though when Michael goes into his cell for the first time and sits down on the bottom bunk. This would have been a perfect moment to let the camera linger and linger to illustrate the timelessness of prison life. Steve McQueen, the British director, does this brilliantly in Hunger (2008) (also a great movie) when he has a fixed camera on one end of a long prison corridor pointed at a person washing the floor and stays on him until he finally gets to the other end. A similar very long take is used in the Irish Traveler film, Pavee Lackeen  (2005) to illustrate the difficulty of such basic things as making a cup of tea as we see the young girl go outside and walk to a hose behind a metal fence, fill the bucket and walk back to the mobile home. However, in Michael Inside, it cuts all too soon in the prison cell to the next shot.

Cinema fans who liked A Prophet (French: Un prophète), the 2009 French prison drama-crime film directed by Jacques Audiard will also enjoy Michael Inside. Unlike A Prophet, the protagonist of Michael Inside is exposed to alternative paths for his future as a former prisoner who has studied for an MA and is progressing towards a PhD gives the inmates a talk on the importance of education. This is an important moment in the film as it demonstrates one way with which to break the cycle of violence and transgenerational incarceration. Indeed Michael plans to further his education despite the bias against former prisoners.

Michael Inside is a wonderful film about the Irish penal system, the sparseness of some working class lives and the potential for positive change. The irony of this depiction of working class poverty and hopelessness is the fact that the film is conceived, researched, and acted using the imagination, talents and experience of Irish working class people. It points to a new self-awareness and education happening in sections of Irish society that augur well for the future.


Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

The Origins of Violence? Slavery, Extractivism and War

The Origins of Violence? Slavery, Extractivism and War


“And the land, hitherto a common possession like the light of the sun and the breezes, the careful surveyor now marked out with long-drawn boundary lines. Not only were corn and needful foods demanded of the rich soil, but men bored into the bowels of the earth, and the wealth she had hidden and covered with Stygian darkness was dug up, an incentive to evil. And now noxious iron and gold more noxious still were produced: and these produced war – for wars are fought with both – and rattling weapons were hurled by bloodstained hands.” 

– (Ovid, written around 8AD which laments humanity’s loss of its original Golden condition [Ovid Metamorphoses, Book 1, The Iron Age]) [1]


The privatisation of property, extractivism, the necessity for food-producing slaves and a warrior class to sustain and further extend the aims of the elites are all neatly summed up in this quote from Ovid. What is noticeable and notable is that over the millennia very little has changed in substance. We still have today wage slaves, standing armies, extractivism and industrialised agriculture that is oriented and controlled according to the aims and agendas of a warmongering elite. However, it seems that things were not always thus.

The coming of the Kurgan peoples across Europe from c. 4000 to 1000 BC is believed to have been a tumultuous and disastrous time for the peoples of Old Europe. The Old European culture is believed to have centred around a nature-based ideology that was gradually replaced by an anti- nature, patriarchal, warrior society. According to the archaeologist and anthropologist, Marija Gimbutas:
“Agricultural peoples’ beliefs concerning sterility and fertility, the fragility of life and the constant threat of destruction, and the periodic need to renew the generative processes of nature are among the most enduring. They live on in the present, as do very archaic aspects of the prehistoric Goddess, in spite of the continuous process of erosion in the historic era. Passed on by the grandmothers and mothers of the European family, the ancient beliefs survived the superimposition of the Indo-European and finally the Christian myths. The Goddess-centred religion existed for a very long time, much longer than the Indo-European and the Christian (which represent a relatively short period of human history), leaving behind an indelible imprint on the Western psyche.” [2]

The Goddess Timeline
Click image to enlarge: A chronological record of archaeological images of women and goddesses on a uniform time scale from 30,000 BCE to the present.
(Copyright © 2012 Constance Tippett)

Gimbutas notes that it was at this time that a relatively homogeneous pre-Indo-European Neolithic culture in southeastern Europe was “invaded and destroyed by horse-riding pastoral nomads from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (the “Kurgan culture”) who brought with them violence, patriarchy, and Indo-European languages”. While this model has been disputed over the years recent research has broadened and deepened our understanding of these movements.

In 2015 an international team of researchers conducted a genetic study which backs the Kurgan hypothesis, that “a massive migration of herders from the Yamna culture of the North Pontic steppe (Russia, Ukraine and Moldavia) towards Europe which would have favoured the expansion of at least a few of these Indo-European languages throughout the continent.”

Another disputed aspect of the hypothesis is the ‘how’- whether “the indigenous cultures were peacefully amalgamated or violently displaced.”

However, the representations of weapons engraved in stone, stelae, or rocks appear after the Kurgan invasions as well as “the earliest known visual images of Indo-European warrior gods”. [3] The beginning of slavery is also seen to be linked to these armed invasions.

According to Riane Eisler, archaeological evidence “indicate that in some Kurgan camps the bulk of the female population was not Kurgan, but rather of the Neolithic Old European population. What this suggests is that the Kurgans massacred most of the local men and children but spared some of the women who they took for themselves as concubines, wives, or slaves.”[4] Gimbutas believed that the pre Kurgan society of Old Europe was a “gylanic [sexes were equal], peaceful, sedentary culture with highly developed agriculture and with great archtectural, sculptural, and ceramic traditions” which was then replaced by patriarchy; patrilineality; small scale agriculture and animal husbandry”, the domestication of the horse and the importance of armaments (bow and arrow, spear and dagger).[5]
“Not so th’ Golden Age, who fed on fruit,
Nor durst with bloody meals their mouths pollute.
Then birds in airy space might safely move,
And tirn’rous hares on heaths securely rove:
Nor needed fish the guileful hooks to fear,
For all was peaceful; and that peace sincere.
Whoever was the wretch, (and curs’d be he
That envy’d first our food’s simplicity!)
Th’ essay of bloody feasts on brutes began,
And after forg’d the sword to murder man.”
-Ovid Metamorphoses Book 14
The idea of a fall, the end of a Golden Age is a common theme in many ancient cultures around the world. Richard Heinberg, in Memories and Visions of Paradise, examines various myths from around the world and finds common themes such as sacred trees, rivers and mountains, wise peoples who were moral and unselfish, and in harmony with nature and described heavenly and earthly paradises.

In another book, The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of a New Era, Steve Taylor takes a psychological approach to the concept of the Fall examining what he calls the new human psyche and the Ego Explosion (which created a lack of empathy between human beings) and resulted in our alienation from nature while making us both self and globally destructive.

However, James DeMeo takes a more radical approach in his book, Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World. He believes that climatic changes caused drought, desertification and famine in North Africa, the Near East, and Central Asia (collectively Saharasia) and this trauma caused the development of patriarchal, authoritarian and violent characteristics.



God creates Man 
“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7)
Author unknown, Creation of Adam, Byzantine mosaic in Monreale, 12th century. 


The arrival of violent, enslaving tribes and of a supreme male deity led to the eventual demise of the of the female deities through demotion or destruction of temples and statues.[6] Over time, the many traditions of pre-patriarchal nature worship were destroyed (such as cutting down sacred trees) or eventually assimilated into the new patriarchal religions.[see my Christmas article] Thus many of the nature-based ideas of matriarchal religion were turned on their head as the male deity creates man and Adam gives birth to Eve.

 


Adam ‘gives birth’ to Eve
“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man” (1 Corinthians 11:8)
From: Master Bertram, Grabow Altarpiece, 1379-1383 


In Christianity the rulers had a religion that assured their objectives. The warring adventurism of the new rulers needed soldiers for their campaigns and slaves to produce their food and mine their metals for their armaments and wealth. Thus, Christ was portrayed as Martyr and Master. In his own crucifixion as Martyr he provided a brave example to the soldiers and as Master he would reward or punish the slaves according to how well they had behaved.



 
 Featured image: Jan van Eyck (before c. 1390 – 9 July 1441) Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych, c. 1430–1440. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Christianity, according to Helen Ellerbe,
“has distanced humanity from nature. As people came to perceive God as a singular supremacy detached from the physical world, they lost their reverence for nature. In Christian eyes, the physical world became the realm of the devil. A society that had once celebrated nature through seasonal festivals began to commemorate biblical events bearing no connection to the earth. Holidays lost much of their celebratory spirit and took on a tone of penance and sorrow. Time, once thought to be cyclical like the seasons, was now perceived to be linear. In their rejection of the cyclical nature of life, orthodox Christians came to focus more upon death than upon life.”[7]
Pagan festivals chart:


[From The Dark Side of Christian History, Helen Ellerbe] 


 "Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image,
     in the image of God he created them;
     male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” "
(Genesis 1:26-28)

According to Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams:

"A rigidly anthropocentric view stemming from biblical conceptions of the domination of nature and placement of earth at the service of humans holds that humans are not only the center and most important part of life on Earth but sit at the apex of biological development. It is therefore our right to dominate and exploit the rest of nature. This view is a complete misunderstanding of the science of evolution and ecology. However distantly, all living organisms are connected to one another through evolution. We are one of an estimated 8.7 million species living on Earth. Even among mammals, Homo sapiens is only one of more than 5,000 species."
Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation by Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams (2017) p.158


Christian eschatology
Christian eschatology (study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order) and the idea of linear time took over from the people’s strong connection with nature and the ever-changing seasons. Although, in early medieval times, according to David Ewing Duncan in The Calendar, the peasants still lived and died “in a continuous cycle of days and years that to them had no discernible past or future.”[8] Different seasonal festivals such as the solstice, the Nativity, Saturnalia, Yuletide, the Easter hare and Easter eggs etc.all had pre Christian connections but old habits died hard and left the church no choice but to incorporate some aspects of them into their own traditions over time.

Feminism vs class
While some aspects of the culture of prehistory are with still with us today, interpretation of the artefacts from archaeological digs has always been open to controversy. For example, Cynthia Eller in her book The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why An Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future believes that the theory of a prehistoric matriarchy (female rulership) was “developed in 19th century scholarship and was taken up by 1970s second-wave feminism following Marija Gimbutas.” However, the feminist historian Max Dashu notes that Eller
“makes no distinction between scholarly studies in a wide range of fields and expressions of the burgeoning Goddess movement, including novels, guided tours, market-driven enterprises. All are conflated all into one monolithic ‘myth’ devoid of any historical foundation.”
The important point here is that ideas of matriarchal prehistory have been used in feminist theory to blame men for war and violence today (ignoring Thatcher and May). Sure, men have been dominant in the warring elites but many, many more men were caught up in the enslaved soldiers, miners and farmers classes. And as it was violence that was used to enslave them in the first place historically, then surely it would be no surprise if violence is used by them in the fight back against their slavery (class struggle).

The reappraisal of our ancient past and our relationship with nature has become an urgent necessity as climate chaos occupies more and more of our time and energy. It is not too late to learn from the myths of the Golden Age and Ovid’s ancient complaints to create a better future.
“This let me further add, that Nature knows
No steadfast station, but, or ebbs, or flows:
Ever in motion; she destroys her old,
And casts new figures in another mould.”
-Ovid, Metamorphoses Book 15

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.


Notes
[1] From Memories and Visions of Paradise: Exploring the Universal Myth of a Lost Golden Age by Richard Heinberg (1989)
[2] The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, by Marija Gimbutas / Joseph Campbell (2001), pxvii.
[3] The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler (1998) p49.
[4] The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler (1998) p49.
[5] The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, by Marija Gimbutas / Joseph Campbell (2001), pxx.
[6] See: When God Was a Woman, Merlin Stone (1978) pps66-67.
[7] The Dark Side of Christian History, Helen Ellerbe (1995) p139
[8] The Calendar: The 5000-year Struggle to Align the Clock and the Heavens – and What Happened to the Missing Ten Days, David Ewing Duncan (2011) p137.

‘Black 47’: The Irish Famine of 1847

‘Black 47’: The Irish Famine of 1847

Review of Film Directed by Daly

 

 


“Weary men, what reap ye?—Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye?— human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, hunger–stricken, what see you in the offing?
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger’s scoffing.
There’s a proud array of soldiers — what do they round your door?
They guard our masters’ granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping— would to God that we were dead;
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.”


- Speranza (Jane Wilde, mother of Oscar Wilde)[1]


Last Wednesday I attended a preview for a forthcoming Irish film, Black 47 (Director Lance Daly), about the worst year of the catastrophic Irish famine and is set in the west of Ireland in 1847.
The story centres around an Irish soldier, Feeney (James Frecheville), returning from serving the British Army in Afghanistan only to find most of his family have perished in the Famine or An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) as it is known in Gaelic.

The English and Irish terms for Ireland’s greatest tragedy are infused with different ideological approaches to the disaster. By emphasising the failure of the potato crop only, the impression is given that there was no food to be had on the island when the opposite was true – there were many other crops which did not fail but were not accessible to the vast majority of the people – hence, the Great Hunger.

In Black 47, the colonised fight back as Feeney puts the skills he has learned abroad with the British army to effective use in Ireland. He kills or executes the various people involved in the British colonial system he blames for the starvation and death of his family: from the bailiff to the judge to the colonial landlord. Moreover, Feeney goes a step further as he refuses to speak English to those in power before he kills them, reflecting back to them an immediate understanding of the powerlessness of those without the linguistic tools to negotiate compromises (as was seen in the film when a monolingual Irish speaker gets tough justice for ‘refusing’ to speak English in court).

Back in the late 1980s a book entitled ‘The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures’ [1989] showed how the language and literature of the empire, English, was used by colonised peoples in the creation of a radical culture to aid their resistance to the hegemony of imperial power. However, now with many of his family dead, Feeney has ceased to be a Caliban profiting on the language of his masters and becomes a powerfully drawn hero who is uncompromising in his insistence that the Irish language and culture will be a respected equal to the imposed English language and culture of the colonists.

In the film the ruling class and their hierarchy of supporters are flush with food and the army is used to transport harvested crops to the coast and exportation. This fact is displayed symbolically when one of Feeney’s victims is literally ‘drowned’ in food, as he is found head first in a sack of wheat.

The international aspect of the Black 47 narrative hints at the geopolitics of the day with Feeney’s return from Afghanistan and the concurrent mass emigration to the United States from Ireland. Feeney’s indignation at finding out how his masters have treated his own family and compatriots as he risked his life for them abroad is similar to the treatment of the African-American soldiers of the Vietnam war on their return to the United States.

But this is not a black and white, Irish versus the Brits, movie. There is complexity as some of the British show empathy for the desperate Irish and pay the ultimate price or go on the run.
“Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more a man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.” (Francis Bacon)
Black 47 is a revenge movie which is cathartic for an audience feeling the utter helplessness of the victims living in a brutal system without real justice, where what should have been their protectors (the law, the state, the army, etc.) became their attackers and betrayed them. In previous food crises, according to Christine Kenealy, the –
“Closure of ports was a traditional, short-term response to food shortages. It had been used to great effect during the subsistence crisis of 1782-4 when, despite the opposition of the grain merchants, ports had been closed and bounties offered to merchants who imported food to the country. During the subsistence crisis of 1799-1800, the government had placed a temporary embargo on the export of potatoes from Ireland. In 1816 and 1821, the British government had organised the shipment of grain into areas in the west of Ireland where there were food shortages. The grain was then sold on at low prices. Similar intervention and market regulation occurred in Britain.” [2]
Unfortunately for Ireland, Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan (2 April 1807 – 19 June 1886), a British civil servant and colonial administrator, was put in charge of administering famine relief. Trevelyan was a student of the economist Thomas Malthus and a believer in laissez faire economics and the free hand of the market. Trevelyan described the famine as an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” as well as “the judgement of God”. [3]


​Famine Memorial in Dublin by by artist Rowan Gillespie (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


With this change in attitude on the part of the British government towards food shortages, the crisis was doomed from the beginning. Kinealy states:
“In 1847 alone, the worst year of the Famine, almost 4,000 vessels carried food from Ireland to the major ports of Britain, that is, Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and London. Over half of these ships went to Liverpool, the main port both for emigration and for cargo.” [4]
Ultimately, one million people starved to death and one million emigrated reducing the population by about 20% – 25%.

Black 47 is an uncompromising film that depicts the harrowing results of a crop failure combined with an ultra exploitative system that knew no moral or legal boundaries. Sure, attempts were made by well-meaning people to alleviate the crisis but the failure of the state to end the crisis on a macro level resulted in an unprecedented disaster for the Irish people. It will go on general release in September.

Further research:
For those interested in finding out more about the Great Hunger, here is a select list of material covering different aspects.

Art
The preview showing of Black 47 was to complement a concurrent exhibtion of art in Dublin Castle showing at the Coach House Gallery until June 30. The exhibition, titled ‘Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger’, is an exhibition of the world’s largest collection of Famine-related art.
See this.

Belfast mural
Poetry
The full poem by Jane Wilde (Speranza, mother of Oscar Wilde), ‘The Famine Year (The Stricken Land)’ can be seen here.

Music
Sinéad O’Connor – ‘Famine’
Damien Dempsey – ‘Colony’
Christy Moore – ‘On a Single Day’

Books
The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham-Smith
The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy by Tim Pat Coogan
The Graves are Walking by John Kelly
Atlas of the Great Irish Famine edited by J. Crowley, W. J. Smith and M.Murphy.
(Massive hardback volume covering almost all aspects of the famine throughout Ireland, lavishly illustrated.)
National Famine Commemoration Committee
The National Famine Commemoration Committee was first established in 2008 following a Government decision to commemorate the Great Irish Famine with an annual national famine memorial day. See this.

Film
Ireland 1848 – ‘An experimental documentary of the Great Irish Famine. Shot as a film might have been shot in 1848 fifty years before the cinema was invented.’
See this.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/.


Notes

Remembering the Irish Easter Uprising

Remembering the Irish Easter Uprising of 1916 against the British Empire? The Art of Obfuscation



 
 
First published on March 30 2016 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Irish Uprising. This Easter we commemorate the 102nd anniversary of the heroic Easter uprising of 1916.

It has been one hundred years since the heroic Easter uprising of the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) and the ICA (Irish Citizen Army) against the might of the British Empire in 1916.
The planning of the 2016 commemoration was thrust into the hands of the conservative Fine Gael/Labour government who would have been at least a bit uneasy about the potential for increasing the political support base for the more politically radical Sinn Féin. However, the problem of artistic representation of the events was at least partially resolved by the well-worn techniques used by successive conservative Irish governments over the years since the Easter Rising: mythologisation, diversion and counternarrative.

The fact that there is still no major monument representing the leaders of the 1916 rebellion in a realist or social realist style (unlike the sculptures of the constitutional nationalists Parnell and O’Connell that top and tail O’Connell St in the centre of Dublin city) is not just indicative of the passing of time and the change in artistic trends.


Social realism as an international movement arose out of a concern for the working class and the poor, and criticism of the social structures that kept them there. As an artistic style, social realism rejected conservative academic convention and the individualism and emotion of Romanticism. It became the chosen style of artists, writers, photographers, filmmakers and composers who wished to document and highlight the harsh realities of contemporary life.

In the context of 1916, artistic representation presented a political dilemma for elites. How do you portray events that essentially forged current political independence yet potentially could also destroy that power if the masses decided to bring its ideals to full fruition? The answer was to proceed tactically. Mythologisation allows for representation to be distanced from the actual events, diversion focuses attention on less important aspects of the events and counternarrative sets up alternative, less threatening or even completely oppositional views of the same events.



Mythologisation
It took until 1935 before a public monument to 1916 was unveiled. A bronze statue, The Death of Cuchulain, was at the centre of a public event which included a military parade, bands playing and trumpets from the rooftops. According toSighle Bhreathnach-Lynch in History Ireland:
Christian ideals, legend and revolutionary nationalism come together in the best known and most artistic of all 1916 monuments, the statue of Cu Chulainn [sculptor Oliver Shepherd] in the General Post Office, Dublin, headquarters of the Rising. It depicts the legendary hero of ancient Ireland bravely meeting death, having tied himself to a stone pillar to fight his foes to the last. Although originally modelled as an exhibition piece in 1914, before the Rising had taken place, it was subsequently deemed to be the most suitable symbol of the event partly because the Cú Chulainn legend was perceived by Patrick Pearse as embodying ‘a true type of Gaelic nationality, full as it is of youthful life and vigour and hope’. The religious feeling invoked by its similarity to the Pieta theme in the pose of the figure also coincided with Pearse’s own ideology which fused Christian ideals with revolutionary nationalism.
The linking of ‘Christian ideals with revolutionary nationalism’ was also apparent in the design of the Garden of Remembrance at the former Rotunda Gardens in Parnell Square, a Georgian square at the northern end of O’Connell Street. The Garden of Remembrance was opened in 1966 on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising by the then President Éamon de Valera. The garden ‘is in the form of a sunken cruciform water-feature. Its focal point is a statue of the Children of Lir by Oisín Kelly, symbolising rebirth and resurrection, added in 1971.’ According to the myth, The Children of Lir were turned into swans by their jealous stepmother:
As swans, the children had to spend 300 years on Lough Derravaragh (a lake near their father’s castle), 300 years in the Sea of Moyle, and 300 years on the waters of Irrus Domnann Erris near to Inishglora Island (Inis Gluaire). To end the spell, they would have to be blessed by a monk. While the children were swans, Saint Patrick converted Ireland to Christianity.
It is interesting to note that the original design was to include ‘busts of prominent patriots in niches’ but while the proposal was approved ‘the project was deferred’ [p. 158].
The connection with Christian ideals also acted as anantidote to any left wing or secularist tendencies in the political movement which had long strived to avoid sectarian divisions:
For the IRB, Irish nationality had nothing to do with religion and nationality superseded all sectarian divisions. The question was Ireland against England, not Catholic against Protestant. It was defined not by blood or faith, but by commitment to this world view. In fact, several of the most prominent republicans of the early 20th century – notably Bulmer Hobson and Ernest Blythe, were Ulster Protestants.
This is particularly true of the ICA (Irish Citizen Army) which was set up in Dublin for the defence of worker’s demonstrations from the police. Seán O’Casey, the dramatist and socialist, was a member and wrote its constitution, ‘stating the Army’s principles as follows: “the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested of right in the people of Ireland” and to “sink all difference of birth, property and creed under the common name of the Irish people”.’
The Christian emphasis has also been shown in the choice of Easter in March (a moveable feast) for the days of the 2016 commemoration rather than on 24–29 April, the actual dates for the Rising in 1916.

Diversion
Moving from sculpture to filmmaking, RTÉ (the national broadcaster) showed a five-part 1916 commemorative drama, Rebellion, set during the days surrounding the Easter Rising. There was much criticism of the minor roles played by the leaders of the Rising with the main emphasis on fictional characters instead.  As one commentator noted:
Colin Teevan [the writer] made the ambitious choice to have the fictional characters as the main dramatic drivers, while the Rising’s familiar protagonists operate on the sidelines. […] Brian McCardie, with the Edinburgh burr of James Connolly, makes one dramatic entrance; Countess Markievicz (Camille O’Sullivan) gets just a single, hammy scene.
Another commentator wrote:
1: Key Characters Were Not Brought Convincingly To Life. One of the pivotal scenes in the final episode was the execution by firing squad of James Connolly. Yet the socialist leader had been thinly-sketched and viewers will have greeted his death with a shrug. We never really knew him – why did we care that he was gone? And did RTE have to slap a Six Nation countdown in the corner as he was sent to his maker? Historians will also surely quibble with the portrayal of De Valera as fascist sociopath.
Éamon Ó Cúiv (a Fianna Fáil member of parliament) described the portrayal of his grandfather Éamonn De Valera, one of the leaders, as an “embarrassment”:
There is no basis at all for the representation of Éamonn de Valera or of the common perception of him at the time on the programme Rebellion. It was entirely made up and it’s an embarrassment to RTÉ to spend public money – and they spent a lot of it – on this type of programme and not give a truthful portrayal of real, historical people – including Markievicz, Pearse and de Valera.
Counternarrative
Most controversial of all in this centenary commemoration was the choice of Henry Grattan, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond for four large portrait banners which Dublin City Council hung to the front of the Bank of Ireland on College Green for the duration of the Easter Rising commemoration period. While three of these constitutional nationalists come from different times, John Redmond had encouraged thousands of Irishmen to join the British Army and fight in the Great War. He ‘lateracknowledged that the Rising was a shattering blow to his lifelong policy of constitutional action. It equally helped fuel republican sentiment, particularly when General Maxwell executed the leaders of the Rising, treating them as traitors in wartime.’
The presence of Redmond on such a prominent banner drew the ire of an activist group called Misneach who stated that they ‘drew over Redmond’s face last night in a protest against “revisionist propaganda”. The group said it painted the figure 35,000 on the banner to represent the number of Irish people estimated to have died during World War I.’

Changing times
Such actions against the counternarrative and the popularity of the commemorations show that the consciousness of the 1916 ideals are alive and well in the general populace. A similar consciousness among cultural creators in Ireland, dealing directly with the many social, economic and political problems in Ireland today will go a long way towards reaching those ideals.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist who has exhibited widely around Ireland. His work consists of paintings based on cityscapes of Dublin, Irish history and geopolitical themes (http://gaelart.net/). His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/.

Zombies and Replicants, The Choreography of Human Dignity

Zombies and Replicants, The Choreography of Human Dignity: Hollywood’s “Blade Runner 2049” and “World War Z”


 
The acceptance of violence in cinema today has become the norm. In almost every genre of cinema (even in comedies [Kick Ass] and musicals [Sweeney Todd]) today extreme violence can crop up at some point during the movie. Some film genres are based on violence: horror, war, westerns, crime, terror.

This is especially true of science fiction and zombie movies where ‘replicants’ (androids/robots) are executed (‘retired’) and zombies are mowed down with machine guns. And because replicants (Blade Runner 2049) and zombies (World War Z) are not ‘human’ then the representation of any form of violence can be used to ‘take them out’. In both films the replicants and zombies are in revolt globally. If we were to argue that both films were symbolic representations of contemporary global issues then we could explain this depiction of the revolting masses as symbolic of elite anxieties regarding the ever growing masses of slum dwellers and refugees in the world today.
It is believed that 863 million people live in slums and around 65 million people live in refugee camps. We live in a global system which has created these problems but is not able to resolve them. Moreover, these numbers are constantly increasing and no state or international organisation has been able to reverse the figures, hence the anxiety.
 
In Blade Runner 2049 the fear is that the replicants could start reproducing themselves and overrun the planet and in World War Z masses of zombies have already started to take over the world. In both films the overriding concern is how to stop them. In Blade Runner 2049 a replicant’s child must be found and destroyed and in World War Z the discovery is made that inoculation with a pathogen causes the zombies to ignore the humans.

The use of violence to destroy the replicants and zombies is depicted in very graphic scenes. We are being  familiarised with regular violent scenes of ‘people’ being killed with machine guns, shot point blank in the head, knifed in the heart or executed on the spot. We do not question the morality of such actions because they are ‘androids’, ‘robots’,  ‘zombies’, etc. However, when such behaviour is shown in films where humans are depicted, do we question it? Do we think about issues of human dignity, justice before the law, the Geneva Conventions, the abolition of capital punishment? Are we becoming like the mob who shouts ‘take him out’?

In film-making the movement of actors before the camera is called ‘blocking’. This comes from theatre where small blocks were used to work out the positions of each actor on stage.
Blocking means working out the the details of each actor’s moves during filming of each scene. Actors must learn the choreography of hand to hand combat (slaps and punches) and how to work with a gun to look authentic and realistic. The huge increase in realistic violent scenes in cinema has had its physical toll on actors accruing injuries in combat scenes, an increase in stunt actors and ever more realistic computer graphics.


World War Z

On a symbolic level the human body is becoming more objectified as a dehumanised punch bag, while on a philosophical level there is a move away from humanism to an apocalyptic ‘posthuman’ view. We are becoming less and less shocked at the sight of torture, pumping blood, bones sticking out, severed limbs, massive gashes in the body, knife wounds and multiple bleeding bullet holes.
It wasn’t always like this. In the 1930s Hollywood adopted the self-imposed Hays Code (officially the Motion Picture Production Code) which set out guidelines on what could be depicted in films. While the code covered many aspects of society especially in relation to crime, nudity and religion, it also recommended that ‘special care be exercised in the manner in which the following subjects are treated’ such as: ‘Arson’, ‘The use of firearms’, ‘Brutality and possible gruesomeness’, ‘Technique of committing murder by whatever method’, ‘Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishment for crime’ and ‘Rape or attempted rape’.

While some may laugh at the prudery and censorship of cinema during those times (which had been rejected by the early 1960s), others see a more human era when violence was implied rather than graphically depicted.


Kick Ass

The issues at stake here though are not the problems of censorship or prudery but the depiction and role of violence in cinema. Cui bono? In society who benefits from the constant portrayal of interhuman and internecine violence in the movies? Cinema has a mass popular base and therefore will influence attitudes in society as people watch and discuss films they see in theatres and on television. Cinema is also extremely costly to make and therefore its content is highly constrained by the type of subject matter elites wish to be viewed. It is often said that the director gets first cut and the producers determine the rest.

It is also known that elites foment controversy to keep the people fighting with each other as a form of divide and rule. By recycling controversies in different forms again and again elites create as many divisions as possible that prevent people uniting as one, and, more importantly, uniting against them. In cinema we constantly see people individually and in groups at each others throats arguing and fighting or facing each other off in various types of gun battles.

Fortunately, cinema also has a tradition of film making which revolves around working class unity and solidarity. This comes down to individual writers and directors with a social consciousness who over the years have made films that explored the lives and struggles of ordinary people. Filmmakers themselves are aware of the potential for decline of a film industry without a code of ethics, where anything goes. In recent years the president of the Union of Cinematographers of Russia, film director Nikita Mikhalkov, initiated the creation of an ethics charter for the film industry there. The code would be a voluntary, self-regulation of the industry. It is interesting to note that in the United States the Golden Age of Hollywood coincided with the time of the Hays Code.

In the discussion about violence in the cinema part of the debate revolves around just and unjust violence. However, one may ask if the depiction of extreme violence in the revenge of the oppressed is reason enough for the acceptability of its portrayal? Even here the dignity of the human being implies that the ethical imperative is to move away from the horror of extreme violence for the possibility of the creation of a genuinely civilised future.


Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/ .

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sex, Drugs and Rollickin' Roles: Christmas and Our Ever-Changing Relationship with Nature





​Traditions of the Winter Solstice


Christmas is an ancient feast that has many positive associations for people around the world. While the bible places the birth of Christ in Bethlehem it does not say when, but by the 4th century the Churches in the East were celebrating it on January 6 and the Churches of the West on December 25.

One thing is certain about Christmas is that it is rooted in many traditions and superstitions relating to nature that existed long before Christmas and many have continued in one form or another to the present day. The many strands of Christmas can be seen in the variety of different traditions associated with, or originating in, places all over Europe. These strands are, inter alia, the solstice, the Nativity, Saturnalia, Yuletide, St Nicholas, Father Christmas, and Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz).


The association of Christmas with its earlier midwinter nature worship traditions declined as the Church exerted its power and authority over pagan practices and in more recent centuries as the industrial revolution took people away from the land and into the cities and factories. Since then industrialisation has taken over many aspects of people’s lives as they shifted from being producers to consumers.

As direct contact with nature declined and scientific knowledge was applied to production, our lives were made easier by an abundance of relatively cheap goods and food. These benefits have come at another price though as industrialisation and technology the world over pushes nature further and further into ecological crises. There is much discussion and debate about the potential for a tipping point as the destruction of ecosystems and climate change move headlong towards irreversible damage of the Earth's biosphere.


This has come about, partly due to our alienation from nature, but also due to a system which blinds us to the excesses of production through mass media, and Christmas has become the vehicle for the worst excesses of industrialisation, commercialisation and commodification. However, this is a gross distortion of its roots in respecting nature and nature worship which was ultimately about a heightened awareness of survival in an unpredictable world.



Sex


The predominant figure of Christmas has become Santa Claus (Dutch: Sinter Klaas) and originated in the stories around St Nicholas, the 4th century Bishop of Myra (Turkey), giving anonymous gifts to help people in need or trouble.[1] In many European regions St Nicholas came door to door with a bishop's mitre and crosier on his feast day, December 6. He was accompanied by his helper Ruprecht or Krampus as he is known in the Alpine regions. Krampus is depicted as half goat and half demon and punished misbehaving children with a rod. 


It is believed that Krampus derives from the much earlier pre-Christian Norse mythology and that he was the son of the god of the underworld Hel. While the name  Krampus is believed to originate from Krampen meaning 'claw', Ruprecht is believed to be from “Hruodperaht” meaning “gloriously shining one” another name of Wotan. Their negative status is likely the result of Christian attempts assert dominance over the pagan peoples of the time, in the same way that the Celtic goddess Bridget was demoted by the Christian church to St Bridget. Krampus is an evil fertility demon who scares children (reversing his earlier role as fertility god) with his hazel wood rod:



"The hazelnut was holy to Donar, the God of marital and animal fertility. The hazel wood rod was considered a great rod of life. With this symbol of the penis, women and animals were beaten "with gusto" in order for them to become fertile." [2]

This fertility rite has continued to the present day on Easter Mondays in the Czech Republic when young women are whipped with a braided rod of willow called a pomlázka to "assure womankind with good health, fresh look and keep fertility. The girls then give coloured or painted eggs to boys and men as a sign of their thanks and forgiveness."



Pomlázka

​During the 12th century the church tried to end the Krampus celebrations but it seems that, like with many popular traditions, they re-surfaced and were re-integrated back into church traditions. Unlike the 'demonised' Krampus, the Christian St Nicholas distributed typical gifts of nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, spices and toys.[3] These gifts were also symbols of fertility. Hazelnuts helped people survive winter as they could be easily stored and were rich in fats and vitamins. Apples were associated with the Tree of Paradise and dried fruits such as oranges and lemons served as fertility symbols in the Mediterranean countries as they were the first fruit of the year and thus herald a good harvest.[4]



Drugs


Another major association of Norse mythology with Christmas is the reindeer pulling the Santa's sleigh. The first mention of St Nicholas in the air in popular mythology is of him "riding jollily among the tree-tops, or over the roofs of the houses, now and then drawing forth magnificent presents from his breeches pockets and dropping them down the chimneys of his favourites" is by Washington Irving in his satirical work, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809). At this point St Nicholas was not associated with Christmas and presents were exchanged on the night before his feast day on December 6.


However, in a poem written in 1822, Clement Moore has St Nicholas arrive with his presents on the night before Christmas and in "a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer" who "would mount to the sky [...] with a sleigh full of toys" and then go down the chimneys to deliver his gifts thus shifting celebrations of St Nicholas in the United States from his feast day on December 6 to Christmas Eve on December 24 instead.
[5]

The phenomenon of flying animals has long been associated in Norse mythology with Wotan and his flying eight legged horse Sleipnir, and with Thor and his flying goat-drawn chariot. 


​"Odin and Sleipnir" (1911) by John Bauer

Wotan is depicted as one-eyed and long-bearded in Old Norse texts and is a fierce god associated with wisdom, healing and war. Children would leave straw in their boots for Sleipnir by the hearth and Wotan would exchange it for a gift in return for their kindness. Thor was also depicted as a fierce god of thunder and lightning, storms, oak trees and fertility. Another god, Morozko, the powerful and cruel Slavic god of frost and ice could freeze people and landscapes at will, became known as Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) but was eventually demonised by the Russian Orthodox Church. As our fear of nature declined and Christmas became more of a child-centered celebration, the depictions of these gods became less fierce over time.

'Thor and Tyr in their Goat-Drawn Chariot’, 1925. From “The Book of Myths” by Amy Cruse, 1925

The flying aspect of Santa's reindeers is believed to refer to the reindeers' fondness for Fly Agaric mushrooms associated with Old Nordic Shamanism. The Shamanic 'flight of the soul' was part of the culture of people in arctic Europe and Siberia who would communicate with the souls of their ancestors in an altered state of consciousness helped along by the hallucinogenic mushrooms.[6] Like the Church attempts to eradicate the earlier fertility traditions and the gods associated with them, shamanism has been considered mere superstition and attacked by both Churches and governments alike.

It seems that what shamanism and fertility rites have in common is the idea of directly engaging with nature to secure desired material or spiritual goals. Both Krampus and Shamanism have been associated with Satan who "uses deception and demonic spirits seeking our destruction" yet their popularity has ebbed and flowed over the centuries without disappearing altogether.



Rollickin' Roles

 
Similarly the Bacchanalian aspect of Christmas celebrations is a survival of Saturnalia, the Roman celebration of Saturn the "god of generation, dissolution, plenty, wealth, agriculture, periodic renewal and liberation" which could also be described as an engagement with the cycles of nature. Saturnalia was "a time of feasting, role reversals, free speech, gift-giving and revelry" held on December 17 of the Julian calendar and was subsequently extended to 23 December. Saturnalia originated as a farmer’s festival to mark the end of the autumn planting season in honour of Saturn (satus means sowing).


According to Justinus, the 2nd century Roman historian, these celebratory aspects of Saturnalia derived from, and were explained by, its origins with pre-Roman peoples of Italy who:

"were the Aborigines, whose king, Saturnus, is said to have been a man of such extraordinary justice, that no one was a slave in his reign, or had any private property, but all things were common to all, and undivided, as one estate for the use of every one; in memory of which way of life, it has been ordered that at the Saturnalia slaves should everywhere sit down with their masters at the entertainments, the rank of all being made equal."

Once again the association with nature and the Golden Age (when people lived in peace and harmony) forms the basis of a celebration which was to be co-opted by the Church and eventually attacked for its excesses. According to a Puritan minister in 17th century England, Increase Mather, Christmas occurred on December 25 not because “Christ was born in that month, but because the heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those pagan holidays metamorphosed into Christian [ones]. Stephen Nissenbaum, in his book The Battle for Christmas, writes:   

“Puritans believed Christmas was basically just a pagan custom that the Catholics took over without any biblical basis for it. The holiday had everything to do with the time of year, the solstice and Saturnalia and nothing to do with Christianity.”

Presumably the masters could not cope with the concept of equality and saw Saturnalia instead as a role reversal. In pre-industrial England people would elect a Lord of Misrule who would be in charge of Christmas festivities and who even had license to poke fun at the nobility.[7] Yet the Lords of Misrule were an important aspect of Christmas as the reversal of traditional social norms was a safety valve for class tensions in England. It was around this time that the personification of Christmas as Father Christmas began to appear. 


​Father Christmas 1848

He was associated not with children, presents, chimneys or stockings, but with adult merrymaking and feasting. During Christmas 'great quantities of brawn, roast beef, 'plum-pottage', minced pies and special Christmas ale were consumed' and people enjoyed singing, dancing and card games resulting in 'drunkenness, promiscuity and other forms of excess.' Thus when the Puritans took over government in the 1640s they tried 'to abolish the Christian festival of Christmas and to outlaw the customs associated with it'. The satirical Royalist poet, John Taylor, wrote in The Complaint of Christmas:


"All the liberty and harmless sports, with the merry gambols, dances and friscals [by] which the toiling plowswain and labourer were wont to be recreated and their spirits and hopes revived for a whole twelve month are now extinct and put out of use in such a fashion as if they never had been. Thus are the merry lords of misrule suppressed by the mad lords of bad rule at Westminster."


However by the 1650s it was reported that the taverns were full on Christmas day, churches were decorated in rosemary as usual, Christmas Boxes had been given out, presents exchanged and mummers paid despite the bans. Worse still violence broke out in London when:

"a large crowd of Londoners gathered to prevent the mayor and his marshalls removing the Christmas decorations which some of the city porters had draped around the conduit in Cornhill. The confrontation ended in uproar, with arrests, injuries, and the bolting of the mayor's frightened horse."

The Christmas celebrations returned with Charles II in 1660 and showed once again the attempt to impose a narrow religious view on the multifaceted ancient traditions of people had failed.


Trees


Somewhat earlier, in the 14th and 15th centuries in Germany, craftsmen began to decorate their guild halls with trees and adorning them with fruits and nuts. This eventually led to the German, Charlotte, who married King George III in 1761, potting up and decorating a yew tree and initiating the custom in England. Legend has it that in Germany, St Boniface, an historical figure from the 7th century, saw a group of people honouring the sacred tree, Donar's Oak (sometimes referred to as Thor's Oak) somewhere around Hesse, became angry and chopped the tree down (and added insult to injury by using the wood to build his church). 

St Boniface chopping the oak tree


Sacred trees and sacred groves were very important to the Germanic peoples and were too important to be cut down. Again we can see that the earlier traditions of pre-Christian society revolved around revering nature:


"some were wont secretly, some openly to sacrifice to trees and springs; some in secret, others openly practiced inspections of victims and divinations, legerdemain and incantations; some turned their attention to auguries and auspices and various sacrificial rites; while others, with sounder minds, abandoned all the profanations of heathenism, and committed none of these things."

Over time, cutting the evergreen tree and bringing it indoors became an important part of Christmas traditions [see my previous article on Christmas trees] despite church proscription, because of its shamanic-pagan past.

Another early nature-based tradition is the wassail in England. Wassailing is a very ancient custom that is referenced in history as early as the eighth-century poem Beowulf. The word 'wassail' is believed to be derived from the Old Norse 'ves heil' and the Old English 'was hál' and meaning "be in good health" or "be fortunate." The wassail had an important significance for farmers:

"In parts of Medieval Britain, a different sort of wassailing emerged: farmers wassailed their crops and animals to encourage fertility. An observer recorded, "They go into the Ox-house to the oxen with the Wassell-bowle and drink to their health." The practice continued into the eighteenth century, when farmers in the west of Britain toasted the good health of apple trees to promote an abundant crop the next year. Some placed cider-soaked bread in the branches to ward off evil spirits. In other locales, villagers splashed the trees with cider while firing guns or beating pots and pans."



Wassailing the apple tree


The Apple Tree Wassail lyrics anticipate the next year and a good crop:


"(It's) Our wassail jolly wassail!
Joy come to our jolly wassail!
How well they may bloom, how well they may bear
So we may have apples and cider next year."

 

Solstice and the Unconquered Sun

Our awareness of mid winter and the solstice ('sun stands still') is shown to go back to the late Neolithic and Bronze Age with Newgrange in Ireland and Stonehenge in England. In both cases the monuments have been aligned to the solstice, sunrise at Newgrange and sunset at Stonehenge. It has been the occasion of celebrations, rituals and gatherings as the sun appears to be reborn and the days start getting longer again. After this time food became scarce (January to April) which were known as the 'famine months'. It was the last feast of the year as cattle were slaughtered and wine and beer were ready for drinking. The 'rebirth' of the sun was known as Sol Invictus or the ‘unconquered sun’ god during the Roman Empire in the 3rd century CE and the Emperor Aurelian dedicated a temple to Sol to be celebrated on December 25. Solar deities have been represented as both gods and goddesses in different cultures and are particularly important in mid winter when the sun is low in the sky. In many countries in Europe the tradition of the Yule log burning was an important festival to help strengthen the weakened sun. 




Yule log

A large log, big enough to burn for the 12 days of Christmas, was brought into the houses and burned. It was believed to have originated with the Norse and the Celts who had large bonfires to welcome the return of the sun. The log was thought to have magical properties and the ashes were then used as fertiliser and as cures for both people and animals and would protect them for the year to come.


 

Nature

Throughout the world there have been many forms of nature worship demonstrating that people respected and feared nature in equal amounts over the millennia. We have a complex relationship with nature, indeed we are an important part of nature. We have to negotiate every aspect of that relationship, be it food, water, reproduction, climate (storms avalanches, floods, droughts, fires), the seasons, the geophysical (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes), light (length of day, sleeping during hours of darkness) etc.
In the past people hoped and prayed that in the next year nature would allow them to live well again and consequently treated nature with respect. To do that people were careful not to over-exploit nature in various ways: by leaving land fallow, having food taboos, allowing areas to regenerate by moving on, by not over-using a food resource, thus creating the basis of sustainability into the future. Their respectful attitude to nature was reflected in what we call superstitions and paganism but it allowed them to celebrate Christmas without guilt in the knowledge that they had treated nature well and that nature would reciprocate with a bountiful harvest the next year.

Today, on the other hand, we are alienated from this way of thinking and living to the extent that people have lost direct control of their relationship with nature. The ever increasing industrial overproduction of meat, over-fishing, over-fertilisation, deforestation, air pollution and extractivism is pushing nature to extremes and already we are seeing the catastrophic results of this in climate change. Maybe as climate change brings ever fiercer storms and destruction of food production we will learn to respect and fear nature again.




Notes:
[1] Nicholas: The Epic Journey from Saint to Santa Claus, by Jeremy Seal, p28
[2]
Pagan Christmas: the Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origin of Yuletide, by Christian Ratsch and Claudia Muller-Ebeling, p33
[3] 
Pagan Christmas, p36[4] Pagan Christmas, p52/3
[5]
From Stonehenge to Santa Claus: The Evolution of Christmas, by Paul Frodsham, p164
[6]
Pagan Christmas, p46/47
[7] C
elebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth's Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony, Richard Heinberg, p107

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/.