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F. L. Blackstadius, 1866

The Western Pseudomorphosis

Take a close look at the image above. It was painted by F. L. Blackstadius around 1866, and represents a bishop, St. Sigfrid, preaching to the natives, or in this case a tribe or nation of Norse.

There is the holy bishop baptizing a woman and child, with a great multitude waiting their turn. Behind the bishop is a dark-robed monk inscribing the names of the saved in a large book. There are children, all innocence, and not especially interested in the proceedings. And then, darker in tone, there’s what looks like an old world priest, clearly not happy, as well as a bard, dispiritedly drooping over his harp. Also, there are brooding warriors, some backing the bishop, and presumably protecting him against harm, while others hold themselves in reserve behind the old-world priest. Notice the young woman with bow slung over the shoulder behind the bard? I love that!

The Bishop and his attendants are white, while the old world priest, bard and those behind them are shadowed.

Do you recognize the men and women who will build the great cathedrals of Europe in that shadowy crowd? They will multiply beyond reckoning and sail to all quarters of the globe. In spite of every effort by the Church they will blossom forth in the Renaissance, fight and die for their faith through the reformation, raise reason to be their guiding light, and despair for what they have lost or left behind in the process.

They will haltingly press for ever more democratic representation, throw off the shackles of the Church, only to find themselves lost in the great Book the Church held a monopoly over for a thousand years.

What became of their own Priest, who had passed down the accumulated wisdom of the tribe from generation to generation? Gone, almost without a trace. And the Bard? Underground, if he or she valued their lives. Rabelais could get away with his scatological tomfoolery, Shakespeare enjoyed a halcyon decade or two between repressions, but it is a precarious dance not to end up roasting over an open fire.

Rational science moves ahead unhindered, as long as it does not dare to challenge the doctrines of the Church. But the people’s spirit, once husbanded by the Priest and Bard, languishes, withers.

The Church is humbled, but still exercises an inordinate control over the people’s minds and hearts. They yearn for something more, make tentative efforts back towards what was lost or forgotten. We are still making those efforts today. For we are those shadowy folk!

And the feminine principle? The old world priest and bard cherished it as that which fecundated the world. In the forest, field, and village fertility is everything. Woman and man worked, lived and died alongside one another. But the bishop is a holdover from another world, the dead world of the ultra-urban Roman Empire. In the decaying world city fertility is suspect, and need be denied.

We are that shadowy group. A thousand years have flowed from them to us. The white bishop has been humbled too. And still we seek for something…