Yeah, it’s a quote, and a long one. But it’s my own, so somehow that’s ok.
“Imagine for a moment it’s a hundred years ago and you’re a young native American, say of the Blackfoot Nation. For thousands of years your world has revolved around the great plains and the buffalo that wander there in vast herds a million strong. Your entire universe is the grassy plains, the moon, the stars and the sun, the animals, the spirits, the grandfathers and mothers, the Ravens and Coyote Tricksters and sacred ceremonies that have served your peoples for millennia. Then in the span of a generation your world is utterly savaged and you’re sent off to a residential school to learn western ways and Christianity. How do you take to the stories of the Bible and Jesus? Would it touch you at your deepest centers, or would you sit there bewildered and vaguely yearning for something, something to do with the plains and the stars and all your people have known and cherished for countless generations? If you’re sitting there and a school teacher asks you to do a painting of Jesus, what would it look like, a Renaissance masterwork or one with elements from the world of the plains you still carry so deeply in your blood?”—Me, A Foolish Obsession
That’s the best illustration of an idea a fella named Oswald Spengler first termed a ‘pseudomorphosis.’ He did so in his underground classic The Decline Of The West, published in German towards the end of the First World War. It refers to one culture, usually more advanced militarily, lying massively overtop of another. In my example above, our Western ‘Faustian’ Civilization has flooded over the great western plains of North America, all but obliterating the culture and lifestyles of numerous Native American Nations such as the Blackfoot.
The result is an entire people forced to think and even express themselves in a manner utterly alien to the dictates of their own deepest urgings of heart and soul. Disorientation, frustration, and despair often result, along with a mounting roiling resentment towards the suffocatingly dominant culture.
Spengler cast light upon what he called the ‘Magian’ pseudomorphosis, the case of the classical Greco-Roman world expanding across the lands of Palestine, Judea, and ancient Mesopotamia, which happens to play no small part in events recounted in books we’ve come to know as The Bible, specifically The New Testament.
But when I mulled over Spengler, over twenty-years ago now, it dawned on me that he hadn’t gone far enough with this pseudomorphosis idea. Sure, the Greco-Roman world had spread across the lands of the Middle East, but it also covered half of what would come to be known as Western Europe. In spite of what’s been called the Barbarian Conquests—the toppling of the rotting Roman Empire by marauding Germanic tribes such as the Franks, the Angles and Saxons and many others—something powerful, authoritative, remained untouched and unvanquished from the dying Classical World. Namely, The Roman Catholic Church!
Hence a line I’ve carried with me and which set me somewhat apart from all I read for more than a decade: “The Roman Catholic Church was an alien institution lying heavily across the soil and the soul of Western European men and women.” A while back I put it into Xenon’s mouth, but that’s just a case of inartistic license, it’s mine.
Heavy indeed. Too heavy for a post, I fear, but it’s part of my song so I’ll sing it as best I can.
The Roman Catholic Church, what we’ve been taught has been at the very foundation of our culture, our way of life, an alien institution? What sacrilege! Which I believe contributed to dour old maverick bachelor Spengler’s reluctance to follow his idea through. Even as late as a hundred years ago Church detractors took risks.
Alas, this post has grown longer than the five to six hundred words I like to limit it to. The cliff-hanger resolution will have to wait till next time. I like to think it keeps you craving more, unable to eat or function until the next publication.