“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origins and culture is like a tree without roots.”
– Marcus Garvey
Also, while it is not … *quite* of identical sentiment to the above, from Njal’s Saga: “Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi.” – “Bare is the Back of the Brotherless Man”.
This latter Icelandic maxim develops itself, when thought about, into something inexorably similar to the quotation of the aforementioned black nationalist. For it is not simply that a problem shared is a problem halved … by cleaving it in two with an axe, in close co-operation with one’s kinsman.
It is a far broader thing than that. Culture, heritage, custom – these things are cloaks and armour amidst otherwise inhospitable (indeed, in this modern age, outright *barren*) environs, whether human or physical.
Now, this is not to say that travel, and the encountering of the different and the foreign were concepts to be abjured by the Indo-Europeans of old. Quite the contrary.
“Wanderlust” may have been a misunderstanding of a more recent German term which in fact refers to the enthusiasm for hiking out there in nature – but the concept of the Volkswanderung is a veer-y excellent means by which we might refer to a pattern frequent within Indo-European history, wherein not just initial forays of raiding parties and adventurous young men but *whole, entire peoples* perambulated about the Continent of Europe, Eurasia, and even further afield beyond the tracklessness of the sea.
An enduring fascination with the concept of ‘voyage’ and ‘discovery’ can be found in the ‘travelogue’ style literature, including some Sagas, which had expanded in popularity as we marched through the medieval era – spurred, in the case of the Norsemen, by the actually-then-occurring custom of supplying semi-mercenary warriors to various more southerly climes.
Indeed, we can directly see such influence when we consider the Saga of Eirek Víðförla, wherein prior to his setting out to try and find the ‘Undying Land’ supposed to exist beyond “India”, Eirek gets much of his geographic knowledge directly imparted to him by a ruler in Miklagaard – Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, wherein many a Norseman had served as part of the praetorian Varangian Guard.
There is also, of course, the massive-scale imperialistic conquests of the Classical World – Macedonians, Romans, and of somewhat earlier dating, the Persians in many directions including the rather temporary excursion up into Scythia.
Yet there is something interesting to be found within the cultural experience of those two storied ‘Western’ Empires which I have just mentioned. In both cases, while there *may* have been varying shades and degrees of desire to encompass a huge ken [or, if you prefer, ‘loka’ – a wonderful Sanskrit term which has at its Proto-Indo-European root, words for “light” and “illumination” and “looking”, before eventually coming more to refer to a demesne, a kingdom, a domain. “As far as the eye can see”, a world entire, in its most extensive sense] … such an enthusiasm was tempered by the disquiet, the grumblings, the occasionally outright uprising against a man or a ruler or a regime which was perceived to have abandoned too much of his own heritage and cultural values in favour of those of the peoples he had encountered upon the way.
It is true to state that the tale of the Indo-Europeans is one of inveterate borrowing. The Crows and Ravens, the Pitrs [‘Ancestors’, ‘Forefathers’ – same root as “Father”, “Pater”] as we would call them, are the Shades of our Forebears not only due to their strong intelligence, their association with death and the Lord Thereof (particularly upon the battlefield) – but also because they *take* from all over the place. *Particularly* that which is shiny.
And in the case of the Greeks, the Romans, the Indo-Aryans, various Germanic peoples, we most definitely *do* see incorporations of cultural kernels, customs, even wholesale divinities [although *rarely* without at least some form of underlying endogenous conceptry to hang this lattermost upon to begin with; and usually fairly suspiciously regarded if not outright cracked down upon or otherwise constrained, regardless].
But, then, consider the charges brought against Marc Antony, that he had begun to behave in a manner that was decidedly un-Roman-like. Or Elagabalus’ many crimes including those of ‘Orientalism’ in both matters religious and political. And, of course, the well-renowned near-mutiny of the Macedonian units of Alexander’s army on the way back from India, at the thought that their lord had become too Persianified.
A somewhat similar pattern is evinced via the opposition in Hindu culture and circles to Islamified elites, to the “BhadraLoks” in Bengal who lived in imitation of the English and then-‘Modernity’, as well as the absolutely justified outrage at the ‘Macaulayist’ efforts to eradicate Sanskrit and Hindu elements from the Indian education system.
And it is most telling indeed, to look at things from the other side of those conflicts, to realize that especially in the case of Macaulay, the effort to erase essential connection and immersion with Heritage of the now-subject people(s) was a deliberately done act of civilizational vandalism designed to render them far more pliant and pliable as the ruled-over.
The logic is simple – once a people stops being a people, thinking of itself as a people, having awareness of just what it is that actually *made* and *makes* it a people in the first place … then it is, by definition, no longer a people that is resisting. It is, at most, *people* resisting – and often as more isolated pockets of resistance within a broadly less actively engaged multitude.
An effort which was thankfully unsuccessful – and, in one of history’s curious ironies, appears to have actually backfired rather spectacularly as applies making Hindu culture and heritage more broadly available [including outside of India] through the concerted efforts to resist the above and push back with dissemination of the relevant materials amidst the populace, even in English, etc.
Still, it is most useful to examine the phenomenon of Macaulayism-as-it-was-intended, especially when we are experiencing the much more comparatively recent phenomenon of “McWorld”, “McWorldism” – which we might briefly explain as “actually-existing globalism”, insofar as it doesn’t actually mean what is often thought of as “multiculturalism” nor “diversity”, but rather the roll-out of a particular pseudo-Americanized space of quasi-cultural kampf that has a similar relationship to the actual concept of “culture” as ‘elevator music’ has to a symphony orchestra, or folk-songs.
If the Back of the “Brotherless Man” is indeed Bare, then the process alluded to above, is one of first stripping him of his clothing [which, if the experience of Indian-textiles in the 1700s versus British cotton is anything to go by, will likely be of superior quality as well as beauty and *meaningfulness* to what might otherwise be forced down upon us via the globalized market] … and then straight-jacketing him til he has forgotten how to re-spin his own previous form of the cloth , the tapestry, the veer-y fabric of identity. At which point, the one-size-fits-all featureless perhaps-even-onesie is thrust upon him, instead.
So what is the fate that lies afore us, should we somehow manage to become that of which the Ancients could only dimly conceive – and even then, with little so much as mournful terror.
Therein lies the direct antithesis of the Volkswanderung, a ‘converse view’ – the “journey”, the “sojourn”, more aptly speaking, as the metaphor for one who has become “rootless”. One who has no home to go back to, and so therefore “wanders” about thither and yon sans overarching purpose, guidance, direction. [So, you know, the opposite of what Odin, and the Wind-Riding Lords of the #GangSteppe do]
He does this, because he has nothing else – and is either endeavouring to ‘outrun’ the memories and the ashes of his previous connexion with his Past [and here, I more properly mean a Past that is far larger, broader, and older than him,than his – that he is more properly to be considered an active *bearer* of, rather than a full-scale much less an *exclusionary* possessor thereof], or he is searching in vain for some shred, some skerrick of connectivity *with* said Past; whether this be some yet-surviving (if perhaps far-flung) remnant to his people, his kin, or even simply the reminders of what it was, who they were, to be coagulated and preserved as one might attempt to reassemble the shards of a statue.
This comes through most eloquently in the famed Anglo-Saxon poem – “The Wanderer”; a man who, as the title suggests, is treading ‘wraeclast’ – the Path of the Exile.
A man who is “wretched and sorrowful, bereft of my homeland, far from noble kinsmen,”, who seeks “Where I might find, far or near, one who in the meadhall might know about my people.”
Within the realms of dream and memory, there is no solace to be found, either:
“Remembered kinsmen press through his mind; he singeth out gladly [greets them with joy], scanneth eagerly men from the same hearth. They [inevitably] swim away. Sailor’s ghosts [‘floating ones’] bring not many known songs [familiar speech] there. ”
Aristotle may have opined that “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” But many beasts are the exact opposite – pack animals, creatures of community. The Wolves, the Ravens, the Elephants – except in that last case, wherein the mighty and memory-bound creature is going off to die.
Gods, too, shall often be found amidst the company of other Gods – with Their solitude tending to coincide with dire previous circumstance, as in the case of Lord Shiva’s retreat up into the inhumanly unforgiving terrain of the uppermost spires of the Himalayas following the Immolation of Lady Sati, there to be alone with His Most Mighty Grief, and even burning asunder to ashes the Kama-Deva [‘Love-God’] Who turned up to try and artificially rectify the situation.
Who could wish such a fate upon a man – that they become not a man amidst Men [and, as I am oft-fond of observing, Hannah Arendt wisely held herself to be a political thinker rather than an abstract philosopher, precisely because it was *men* rather than *man* which inhabited this world]; indeed, an “individual” rather than a portion of “Mankind” – which, after all, is the “Kin(d) of Man(n)u(s)”, and therefore via the word itself indicates at least some degree of connectivity with one’s heritage. Especially given the potentially plausible root of this concept with the Proto-Indo-European “Men”, meaning “mind”, “thinking”, “spiritual activity” – which also provides us with the root for terms for “memory”, such as “memento”, “mnemonic”. In Sanskrit, मनु (Manu) has maintained a rather remarkable close-coterminity of pretty much all of these concepts, especially once related terms such as मन्तु (Mantu – man, men, counsel passed on, overseer/oversight, governance), मनस् (Manas – which also includes ‘breath of life’, ‘imagination’, ‘temper’/’temperament’), मन्मन् (manman – which has a *very* close meaning-field to the Proto-Germanic ‘Muniz’ which underpins ‘Munin’, encompassing also bandhs of affection, and in Sanskrit, a Prayer and an outward expression of an inner thought or feeling or insight/essence – which is, in a veer-y real sense, *exactly* what externally manifested heredity, material culture, or other forms of cultural heritage etc, is).
To return, then, to our “lost” [in multiple senses of the term – for he is not only misplaced upon the wideness of the earth, but *within* himself (and therefore, in teh sense of the clan’s intrinsic, immanent interplay inito his psyche, *from* himself, at least in part) from that which previously anchored and grounded him] Wanderer, as he contemplates what now confronts him in the increasingly bleak absence of community and of kin : –
“Now in place of a beloved host stands
a wall wondrously high, wound round with serpents.”
Students of Germanic mythology and cosmology shall note that this this exactly mirrors description of Nastrond [‘Corpse-Shore’] – rather strongly implying that the narrator may be seeing a vision of Hell in the absence of fallen comrades and isolation from his ancestral folk and folk-ways that go with, can only really manifest with and through them.
“Storms beat on the stone hillside, the ground bound by driving sleet, winter’s wrath. Then wanness cometh, night’s shade spreadeth, sendeth from north the rough hail to harry mankind.
In the earth-realm all is crossed [troubled/tangled] ; Wyrd’s will changeth the world under Heavens
Here, wealth is temporary; Here, friend is temporary; Here, man [one’s self] is temporary; Here, Maeg is temporary;
All this earth’s frame shall stand empty.’ [all the foundation of this world turns to waste]”
I have left “Maeg” untranslated, as it has several potential interpretations – including “kin”, but also “woman”, or “power/might”, dependent upon dialect.
It is not hard to see how these last lines, in particular, echo the well-known axiom of the Havamal, – although in that particular case, the moral maxim is somewhat different: while various worldly things such as cattle and those around us are transitory, Fame, Glory lasts eternal.
However, I have often pondered the question as to how enduring the renown of mighty deeds can be, in the absence of those who remember them, and speak of them, sing of them, eulogize them and their authors [in both senses of the term – it is important also to honour the sagacious word-artificer, without whom the folk-memory of a people is significantly in peril. Without the Vedic Rishis,how would would the Vedic culture and religion of three and a half thousand years ago, more, have come down to us?].
Whatever the answer to that particular question [and there *are* some metaphysical suggestions which mean that it’s perhaps not quite so straigthforward as one might think …which we might delve into in more depth at another juncture], in The Wanderer we find a meditative counterpoint to the modern concept that “Hell Is Other People”.
Indeed, it’s downright *inverted*. “Hell”, here, the place of cold and dark and sinful infamy, wound-round with serpents and dripping with the venom of death amidst icy waves ‘pon a trackless ocean that is uncaring … is the *lack* of (certain) other people. It is the tangible divorcedness from being “a part of a people”. Out, beyond even being “apart *from* a people”, and into the erasure from this earth or potentially even the other realms, *of* one’s People.
This is why, when I am counselling many of those whom I look after and tend to, there are two enjoinments [and that’s quite directly, figuratively, what they are – en-*join*ments] rarely far from my lips:
“Remember Who/What You Are”
“Become That Which You Were Born To Be”
Or, in other words – if the tree of your life is failing to flower, seems withering in its branch-like extremities and starting to weaken from boughs to trunk … go back to “basics”, the “foundations”. Look to the “roots”, the “Heritage”.
There, you shall indeed find a Well of Wisdom-from-‘Memory’.