Good Knight!

•March 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

medieval-rules-for-jousting

 

(The following is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released book Messed-Up! ©2015, Scott Davis, All Rights Reserved to Author)

When the black death had passed, it left a number of important changes in its wake:  for starters, with nearly everyone dead, there weren’t nearly enough people left to work the fields.

The great Manors and Estates of feudal society were traditionally worked by serfs. Serfs were the lowest class of feudal society – the ones who did all the work. Miners, Millers, Lumberjacks, Farmers, Construction-Workers – if it was really hard work, and involved perspiration but not wearing armor, these guys were required to do it. In return for all this hard work, they got to work a little harder farming a little plot of land to keep themselves alive. And it was a crime for them to run away.

The Aristocracy, who owned all the land that the serfs were working, were to provide protection, and justice … protection because their estates wouldn’t make money if the serfs weren’t there to work the fields, and justice because it wouldn’t do to let the serfs kill each other off when disputes arose. In addition to protecting their serfs, the aristocracy were also required to contribute to the army of their own immediate superior, either monetarily, or by doing military service for a certain percentage of the year. Between the Serfs and the Aristocracy was a very, very, very small Middle Class, most of whom were tradesmen in the cities.  This was the Feudal System – and it’s the main reason the Dark Ages were, well, dark. There were basically 4 kinds of men: Lords, Churchmen, Serfs, and Tradesmen. (Obviously, there were also women, but it was illegal for them to have occupations, so, apart from the occasional supremely competent female aristocrat, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, their primary contribution was to produce more members of the father’s class.)

Feudalism was primarily a way of having military power without maintaining a standing army – and standing armies are bad, because A) they were expensive as long as you were paying them, and B) they were freaking dangerous the minute you didn’t!

Under Feudalism, each lord owned land, and possessed a Title, both bestowed by the lord above him. The catch? Every lord had to be either a soldier, or able to pay scutage – basically a tax for not being able to fulfill his military obligations. It made sense, at the time, because not everyone could be good at fighting, and the payment of scutage enabled High Lords and Kings to hire mercenaries who were good at fighting. (The mercenaries were landless knights – nobles who’d either been driven from their lands, had their titles revoked, or who’d been bankrupted and paid with their lands. They might also be younger sons of nobles who’d left all their lands to their elder children. Often enough these guys had been promised to the church, to keep them from attacking their more fortunate brothers, but had fled from that requirement … they were called “Erring Knights” … Knights Errant, in Norman-French.) These large bands of mercenaries called themselves “Free Companies” – a bit of a misnomer, as they were anything but free.

The Feudal Age was the age of the fully-armored knight – and only the wealthiest of people could become knights:  the cost of the cheapest weapons and armor that could be used by a knight was the same as the cost of a good-sized farm. And it wasn’t enough just to have armor, and a lance and sword – you had to have a war-horse, as well. Forget the Hollywood notion of a horse:  a Knight armed cap-a-pie, that is from head to foot, in plate-armor was pretty freaking heavy, and it took a damned strong horse to even move under such weight, let alone carry a knight into battle.  Worse, someone had gone and invented the stirrup, which kept the knight from falling off the damned horse, even when another knight, on another horse, was trying to knock him off with a lance.

Trouble was, the stirrup, and the high-backed, executive-type saddles they took to using, transferred the full shock of such an encounter to the poor horse’s back!  This was bad news for pretty much any ordinary horse – and fairly terrible news for the knight on his back, since it was really likely he’d be pinned-down by the weight of the dead animal, and utterly at the mercy of whatever common soldiers happened to be standing around on the ground anyway. What was needed was a freaking super-horse, or everyone was going to end up buried under dead horses, which is almost never a good way to win a battle.

They got busy breeding horses for strength – not necessarily for size, but for pure muscular power and strength of bone. Eventually, they ended up with three breeds which seemed pretty good at carrying knights: the Destrier, the Courser, and the Rouncey. Destriers seemed to be the best, and were certainly the rarest, and therefore most expensive – High Lords tended to keep these for themselves. The Courser was an all-around good choice for ordinary knights: powerful, not quite as ungodly expensive as the Destrier, and they seemed to have a lot of them – which was good, because the very best and most preferred method of bringing down a knight was still to kill his horse – whereupon the knight would be taken captive for ransom – meaning he’d eventually need another horse. Rouncey’s were pretty much what we’d consider very strong riding horses – perfectly suited for the lowest knights and men-at-arms, who wore lots less armor, and inexpensive enough that you could let a lot of them be slaughtered, along with their not-quite-top-drawer riders. They also made pretty fair pack-horses for hauling away the bodies of their former riders for burial.

I’ve mentioned before how enthusiastic humans can be about killing one another. Now, at the height of the Dark Ages, they had a system for producing knights without maintaining those expensive and dangerous standing armies; they had war-horses capable of carrying knights into battle, stirrups to keep them from falling off the horse, and all the latest pointy-slashy things for killing one another. Best of all, the guys in charge were heavily armored, and almost never got killed – and really had little cause to care if a lot of lower-class, under-armored types did get killed, so they really had no motivation to settle their differences over a pint. Better, the exciting new practice of holding people for ransom was such a good excuse for war, that they pretty much had a field day.

Later, when they’d seriously reduced the number of lower-class fighters at their disposal, they came up with something almost as good as a war: the Tournament.

Learning the skills of Knighthood was expensive and time-consuming, and, if there weren’t enough underlings around to have a good old-fashioned war, you needed some way of providing battle experience for men and horses – look, horses, if not the most intelligent animals on earth, still had a pair of perfectly good eyes, and reacted pretty much the way anyone would, on spying a wall of other horses, carrying guys with pointy things, on their backs. Dodge City wouldn’t be invented for several more centuries, but the concept of “Get the Hell Out of Dodge!” was an old and time-honored tradition simply waiting around for something snappy to call it … in the meantime, knights would have to settle for calling it “being borne away”, or “retreating”, the difference between the two being whether it was the horse’s idea, or the rider’s.

A tournament was a sort of fake war, and came in 3 parts:  the Joust, the Melee, and the peasant games.

The Joust pitted one knight against another – good experience for a horse, who probably couldn’t imagine a thousand of those guys on the other side, and who would therefore be gently broken-in to the idea of enforced military service.  The usual rules were that knights got three passes at one another … they got one point for breaking a lance on the other guy, two points for striking him on the helm, and three points if they knocked the guy off his horse – or broke it’s poor back. Usually, the loser’s horse and arms were forfeited to the victor – who, not usually needing more armor, would often ransom it back to it’s former owner (while keeping the nicest bits for himself.)  The rate was often less to do with the value of the horse and armor, per se, and more about the Feudal rank of the loser, since, after all, an Earl could afford a higher ransom than an ordinary knight – and might consider it offensive if he were ransomed for the price of a lesser noble. Undeniably, he might also take offense if the ransom was too high. Holding a high Lord for ransom was a delicate thing, therefore, which could often leave hard-feelings in it’s wake. It became the practice to forfeit matches against high Lords to avoid this unpleasantness, which pissed off the high Lords, because they wanted to have some fun, too, not to mention wanting their share of the ransoms. Certain high Lords began showing up to joust incognito – and were surprised to find that their exceptionally fine Horse and Armor gave them away!

Well, damn.

The second part of a tournament, the Melee, was a mock battle.  You get roughly equal numbers of knights on a side, they get to charge once with a lance, and then things devolved to hacking, slashing, or clubbing, depending on whether you favored an axe, a sword, or a mace. There were usually some safety regulations:  a knight who was forced out of bounds, or against the tourney wall, if there was one, was considered defeated, and the ransoming could begin (there were judges to decide if one guy got all the ransom, or if he had to split it with others.)  A knight who was injured or likely to become injured could surrender, by throwing down his arms – except that a melee could be a damned confusing thing, and those helmets were hard to see through and “oops, I seem to have cut off your head – are you alright?”

The modern signal of holding ones empty hands up was quickly adopted to prevent this sort of embarrassing circumstance.

The melee was almost as good as a war – except sadly lacking in the traditional raping and pillaging that went along with real warfare.  When snide comments began to be made implying that “Tournament Knights” weren’t as manly as actual warrior knights, the tourney guys decided what the hell, and often invaded the nearby town and pillaged and raped, there. This outraged the warriors, since the tourney guys hadn’t actually gone to the trouble of conquering the town, and eventually the Pope got involved with a Bull saying the tourney guys had to stop.

Given how very unlikely it was that the Pope would actually show up at one of these things, though, the raping and pillaging pretty much continued, somewhat ameliorated by the occasional payment of damages to the Lord of the town.  There is no record of any of this gold making it’s way down to the people who got raped/pillaged, but no system is perfect.

The third portion of the tournament was entirely for the lower classes, already pretty pumped about seeing a bunch of aristocrats kicking one another’s asses without any of the usual carnage among peasant foot troops.  The games included all the sorts of things that could exercise a yeoman’s battle skills, so as to better prepare him for slaughter/slaughtering, once the aristocracy got back to having wars.  There was boxing, bouts of quarter-staff, bucklers, which was a sort of sword-play using a short sword and a light shield, darts, stone casts, and tossing the caber, among the scots, which basically involved throwing a telephone-pole (long before they were invented). (When pressed for a description of how this particular skill might be used in battle, the scots will typically glower and bash their questioner with something considerably smaller and harder than a telephone-pole, leading one to assume that the point of caber-tossing is to lure unwary foes into asking smart-ass questions.)

The best part of the games was the Archery competition, where all the most famous archers (poachers) of the region showed up to shoot, and where, if you were lucky, King John would make fun of a particular archer, who would then do some amazing feat of archery, because he was really Robin Hood.

The Black Death screwed all that up.

Most of the serfs were dead. Most of the Middle-Class, who lived in the cities, were also dead. Many of the Aristocrats were dead, too. Everyone who was not dead, got wealthier, by inheritance – except that the Aristocrats counted their wealth by tilled acreage – and there were remarkably fewer people left to do all that tilling. The ones that were there had more money than they’d ever had before, and suddenly found themselves in possession of something that most of them had never had before: bargaining power.

If the aristocrats wanted that tilling done, they were going to have to make some changes: it was a crime for the serfs to leave their lands, but that was exactly what they were threatening to do if they didn’t get their way. The punishment for serfs deserting their manor had always been death, but killing them didn’t seem like much of an option:  most of them had seen so much death in the Plague that the idea didn’t impress them much – and dead men can’t till fields.

First, they wanted their freedom – basically, they wanted it to be legal to do what they were threatening to do – that is, seek jobs in the cities, if they couldn’t get a good deal on the farm. Again, the outraged nobles considered enforcing the law – but a) the serfs hadn’t run off, yet, and b) that would still leave the damned fields untilled.

Next, the serfs demanded raises: without their labor, the aristocrats were broke, so they’d have to cough up more dough to keep the laborers laboring. More than one land-lord bitterly complained about the outrageousness of this behavior – and then coughed-up because the fields still weren’t getting tilled, and half the serfs from the next manor had run off to the cities to become tradesmen.

This was pretty much the beginning of the end for Feudalism. The lower class started getting all uppity. The Middle Class found themselves able to charge much more for things than they could have gotten away with before – and all that money started to get spent on stuff the Middle Class ought not to have! People were going out and buying clothes as nice as the Lords were wearing. They were buying food, and wine as good as that at the Lord’s table. With burgeoning wealth comes an increase in crime, so the middle classes began to arm themselves – something the aristocracy had previously reserved exclusively to themselves.

Aristocrats tended to be better educated than the lower and middle classes.  This might not extend to reading, but it did extend to math, and it really didn’t take a genius to figure out there were FAR more peasants than lords, and if the peasants could have weapons, they could pretty much have anything else they might decide they wanted!

Gulp.

Arms control is not a modern idea. Americans tend to be big opponents because it’s built-in to the Constitution – but very few Americans know why.  The reason is simply that for centuries European Lords had kept the populace under control by forbidding them to have weapons.  Those laws were already old in Feudal days, but the post-plague craze for arms and luxuries stimulated a renewal of these laws that went a little overboard.

A New Religion

•March 6, 2016 • Leave a Comment

(The following is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released book, Messed-Up! ©2015 Scott Davis, All Rights Reserved to Author)

In the first century of the Common Era (which used to be the Christian era, before a whole lot of other people objected to the fact that it was intolerant of their religion, and everyone agreed to use the word “common” instead, and everyone also agreed to ignore the fact that the era began with the birth of Christ), the Roman Procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, rubber-stamped the crucifixion of a wandering preacher who’d been proven guilty of ‘Telling people to love God and be nice to each other’. Pilate hadn’t been happy about it, but the Priests of the Jewish Sanhedrin had been insistent. Jesus, himself, hadn’t been any help, refusing to admit to any crime, while also refusing to oppose his own execution. To Pilate, this seemed yet another version of the whole “Damned if you do, and Damned if you don’t” controversy.  Eventually, Pilate washed his hands of the affair (literally), (opting for ‘Damned if you Do’ out of moral cowardice,) and ordered the Crucifixion that the Sanhedrin and their howling mob were howling for.

After Jesus was dead, there were various events which could be interpreted as signs that God was pretty unhappy about something – and a number of Jesus’ followers pointed out that it might NOT be a coincidence that all these events happened right after the Rabbi gave up the ghost.

Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, realized that it was the eve of the Passover Sabbath – and Jewish custom forbade leaving dead bodies unburied during such a time.  He therefore went to Pilate, mentioned that he had a nice new tomb, and asked (nicely) for permission to take Jesus down from the cross. Contrary to Jewish custom, it was Roman policy to leave executed criminals hanging till they rotted, or the crucifix was needed for the next customer – but Pilate had been really uncomfortable ordering the execution, and Caesar had ordered him to be more tolerant of Jewish customs, so he eventually agreed that Joseph could take the body.

The Sabbath was considered to begin at sundown, which was fast approaching, so Joseph enlisted the assistance of another Sanhedrin member, Nicodemus, and hurriedly pulled Jesus down off the cross, and transported him to the nearby tomb, where they made haste to wrap the body in a fine shroud of linen, and rolled an enormous stone in front of the tomb.  After the Holy days were ended, they’d send the women of Jesus’ following to wash the body, and anoint it with spices in preparation for the actual burial.

When the Passover was completed, 3 days after the execution, Jesus’ Mother, his Aunt, and Mary Magdalen, made their way to the tomb, with everything they’d need to prepare the body – except that there was no body!  We have four different accounts of this event, and none of them agree on all of the details – but all of them do agree that Jesus wasn’t in his tomb, but the linens he’d been wrapped in were.

Skipping over the fact that, wherever the hell he was, he was naked, the ladies quickly realized that the salient point was that the Master was gone!  They hustled back to where the Disciples were laying low, told their story, and everyone pretty much freaked out.

Subsequently there was a rash of Jesus-sightings (miraculously clothed) – including one pretty awkward one for the Disciple Thomas.  Thomas had declared that he’d believe in the risen Jesus when he could poke his fingers into the man’s wounds – only to have Jesus actually show up, and insist that Thomas knock himself out! (There is no record that Thomas actually obeyed this command – presumably, the fact that the wounds were, in fact, still open, grossed everyone out enough to not insist.) Eventually, after 40 days of this, Jesus was taken up into heaven, after commanding his disciples to spread the gospel far and wide.

First, however, they had to deal with finding a replacement for Judas Iscariot, the Disciple who had betrayed Jesus, then off’d himself.

The Acts of the Apostles, which is the book of the New Testament where these things are recorded, really doesn’t explain why it was necessary to find another disciple.  It’s true that there are certain numerological oddities that crop up, over and over and over in the Bible.  It’s also true that the number twelve was one of these, and  that Jesus had chosen twelve apostles. A final truth was, with the loss of Judas, they were down to eleven and a new guy was essential to bring them back up to full quota.

Don’t look like that. You may not be a numerologist, but the ancient Israelites damned well were!  The numbers 1,3,4,7, 12, and 40 appear over and over again in both the Old and New Testaments, and were considered to some degree ‘holy’.  Examples include 1 God … 3 aspects of God (the Trinity) … 4 Living creatures stationed at each of the 4 corners of the throne of God, and they have 4 wings and 4 faces … 6 days to create the Earth, plus 1 to rest, equals 7 days to a week … 7 Churches in the Book of Revelations … 12 tribes of Israel … and, finally, 12 apostles, and “oh, crap, now we only have 11, so we’d better break out the dice and get God to weigh in on this whole thing!”

If the numerological explanation doesn’t do it for you, Acts does quote Peter, considered the head-apostle, as giving a speech regarding an obscure prophesy which could be interpreted to mean they needed a replacement disciple. Everyone talked it out, narrowed down the choices to two guys who’d been with Jesus from his baptism to his crucifixion, and called upon God to choose between them. Then they threw some dice, and declared that God had chosen a fellow by the name of Mathias.

New religions, like new restaurants, begin on very shaky foundations, and are often very fragile.  Christianity certainly was:  from the beginning, it held the ire of the Jewish Sanhedrin – the High Council of Priests which had connived to have Jesus executed in the first place. Prominent among the members of the Sanhedrin were the Pharisees, a sect of fanatics who had spent three years trying to trip Jesus up.  As far as they were concerned, Christians were rogue Jews who blasphemed the faith by claiming the long-awaited Messiah had already come and gone – even worse, they declared that the Pharisees had missed it!

By God, that was going too far!!!

Saul of Tarsus was a well-educated, strictly-raised Pharisee. The new, radical sect of Christianity horrified and enraged him – Christians, after all, were telling everyone that Christ was not just the Messiah of Hebrew prophesy, but the actual Son of God! It was blasphemous, and, like all hyper-fanatical religious types, he couldn’t just stand by and wait for God to judge and punish them – he figured it was his duty (as a hyper-fanatical religious type) to judge them himself (he didn’t actually believe in Jesus, at the time, and had therefore not really paid attention to the Master’s exhortation to “Judge not, lest ye be judged”.)  Once he had judged them, he’d see to it that they got dragged before the Sanhedrin, which would take care of punishing them – just as they had done for Jesus.

None of this was his actual job, per se – technically, his profession was “Tent-Maker” – but someone had to make sure these blasphemers got taken care of, and, since no one else seemed ready to do it, he decided he’d step up. He became a professional Christian-Persecutor, and wow, was he ever good at it! Saul was Darth Vader to the Christian’s Rebel Alliance – and, like Darth Vader, he had a life-changing experience, not at the hands of a light-saber wielding kid protecting his sister, but, while minding his own business (for once) on the road to Damascus.

Part way there, he was accosted by the resurrected Christ – who was a little upset that Saul hadn’t cut his Disciples any slack. In the course of the conversation, Saul was blinded, then allowed to continue his way to Damascus. This was not at all an easy thing to do while blind, but he managed it, finding people to lead him by the hand to town where he secured lodgings. On the third day of his blindness, Ananias of Damascus showed up.

Ananias, apparently a fervent new Christian, explained that Jesus had sent him to restore Saul’s sight, and baptize him.  His sight restored, Saul, perhaps a little embarrassed at the ruckus he’d been kicking up, changed his name to Paul and decided to make up for being an asshole toward Christians, by being an asshole on behalf of Christians. Before long, he’d started an all-out war with Peter over just whom to preach the gospel to, had written reams of brand new Christian dogma (eventually totaling fourteen of the twenty-seven books of the new testament), and had ticked off both the Jews of Antioch, the Church Fathers in Jerusalem, and, eventually, women, world-wide!

Apart from the road to Damascus, there is NO conclusive evidence that Paul had ever even met Jesus – let alone followed him around for three years soaking up his teachings and parables!  Not to mention the fact that this guy had not only been advocating a lynching, but had been prepared to sell the rope for it as well! Peter and the other disciples were, at best, unconvinced of Paul’s authority to decide such sweepingly important issues of the religion they had founded, and which he had always opposed!

Unlike Saul, however, they had actually heard Jesus’ sermon regarding non-judgmentalism, and, regretfully, let him have his say.

Paul decided that you didn’t have to be Jewish to be Christian – an important advance, because Peter, who’d been left in charge by Jesus, had been insisting that new arrivals did have to convert to Judaism first. It might not seem to be a big deal to you, but conversion to Judaism meant becoming circumcised, and the vast majority of men felt that maybe their souls didn’t need salvation if it meant an operation on their privates in the days before anesthetics!

Paul declared it had been revealed to him that the life and death of Jesus had fulfilled all of the old covenants of Judaism – and, since circumcision was the sign of those covenants, newly converted Christians could save both their souls and their foreskins!

Just when everyone was expecting Peter to go postal on Paul, the former announced that he’d had a dream which had instructed him that it was really ok, and Gentiles could become Christians without first becoming Jews.  This was little comfort to the ones who’d already done it Peter’s original way, of course.

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that ‘peter’ would eventually become a slang expression for ‘penis’.

(Circumcision, DID,however, offer protection against certain diseases, so the custom of circumcising babies – who were unable to object – continued.)

Once their penises were declared to be safe, people began to be converted by the thousand, all over Asia Minor (modern Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey.) Soon the Disciples made inroads in parts of Greece, the old lands of Carthage in north Africa and southern Spain, all around the city of Massilia, in southern France (modern Marseilles), and a freaking huge contingent around Rome itself.

The Romans weren’t happy about it. For starters, these wackos were preaching ‘niceness’ – something fundamentally at odds with Roman culture! Worse, they were preaching only one God – Rome had a whole Pantheon of Gods, including every Emperor, and these guys were claiming they were all false! The only way the Empire could function, being an amalgam of conquered territories, was to practice tolerance for all religions: religion could, after all, stir up armed resistance faster than anything else known to man!  Pretty much the only effective way to govern far off territories was to permit them to keep their beliefs, traditions, and culture. Convince them that they were all a part of the empire. The Christians and Jews, in refusing to accept anyone else’s religion as valid, seemed to the Romans to be the very height of intolerance and bad politics! Apart from which, if the Romans hadn’t allowed the Jews their religious freedom, Christianity could never have gotten started at all!  Finally, the ungrateful bastards insisted on gathering together for “Prayer Meetings”, to which only Christians or prospective Christians were invited – and the gods only knew what sort of seditions they were plotting!

By the time of Nero, Christians were being persecuted as a matter of course.  When the great fire of Rome broke out, Nero used them as scapegoats, and began rounding them up. He had some dipped in oil, tied to posts and set on fire, to light his horse-races, fed others to Lions in the Coliseum, and is reputed to have ordered the executions of both Peter and Paul – the one by upside-down crucifixion, and the other by beheading. (Paul was given this fairly painless execution because he had been born a Citizen of Rome. There are a variety of historical sources which claim that Nero had NOT, in fact, ordered either man executed – but there’s ample evidence that Nero was not at all a nice person, and probably found the preaching of ‘being nice’ to be anathema, so fuck him!)

This sort of thing continued for a couple of centuries – but persecution has never really discouraged Christianity from spreading. Slowly, Christians began to have more and more influence until at last, Emperor Constantine decided “What the Hell”, and legalized it. At first, this was simply a matter of granting Christianity the same validity under Roman law that any other recognized religion possessed. And, at first, the Christians seemed content:  the Empire, and the Emperor, were seen as promoting and enforcing the Pax Deorum (the Peace of God). In return for Christain endorsement, Constantine built cathedrals all over the Roman Empire – the most important, of course, being St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This caused Christianity to spread faster than a dirty rumor – even to the farthest fringes of Europe!

When various Christian prelates began arguing over dogma, Constantine summoned the First Council of Nicaea. He invited all 1800 Christian Bishops – but only about 300 actually showed up (mostly from the Eastern Empire: some time before, it had been decided that the Empire was too big to be managed by a single ruler, so it had split into a Western Empire with one ruler, and an Eastern Empire with another. Constantine had fought several civil wars to unify the entire thing again, under his rule – a policy, which, sadly, was sabotaged by his insistence on moving the capital of the empire to his own city in the Eastern Empire: Constantium.) Constantine promised the attendees free transport to and from the council, allowed the Bishops to each bring a couple of priests and three deacons, and put all of these people up at his own expense.

It was the very first religious convention.

At Nicaea, the bishops shouted at each other, swore at each other, called one another heretic, nearly drank the town’s wine-cellars dry, and basically behaved like heathens – important traditions still honored to this day by many Christian denominations during their conventions. Over time, though, the Bishops at Nicaea slowly began to make progress. They selected which books would be contained in the canon of the Bible, which would be considered apocryphal, and which would be considered heretical.  While they were at it, they hammered out various doctrinal points, so that, for the first time since Jesus himself, Christians had a formal “creed” or set of teachings, referred to as the ‘Nicene Creed’. They fixed the dates of Holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, decided on the structure of the Church, addressed two off-shoot sects, decided on how heretics and schismatics could be allowed back into the church, and set standards for everything from communion to baptism. In the process, they condemned the existence of the Gnostic Gospels as heresy, confirming the Judgement of an earlier council at Antioch.

As Christianity spread, the Church and its Bishops gathered more and more power – and it is not the way of the powerful to remain content with less than everything.

The Empire became divided into Eastern and Western Empires, again, with separate Emperors, and in both of them, the next few Emperors ping-ponged back and forth between Paganism and Christianity.  Finally, Emperor Theodosius briefly reunited the Empires, and declared Christianity the State Religion, removing the shrine of Victory from the Senate, extinguishing the Sacred Flame of the Vestals and evicting them from their Temple, then banning the Olympic Games in Greece.

That’s about when the wheels came off the wagon.

The Senate protested. The Vestals protested. The Greeks protested. The Christians exulted. Theodosius declared Illegal all other cults and ordered their Temples closed – and an orgy of looting and burning began: the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and the Serapeum in Alexandria were especially prominent casualties – Delphi being home to some awesome statuary (which got burned), and the Serapeum being the last remnant of the Great Library of Alexandria (also burned.)

Meanwhile, Theodosius was busy wrecking his empire’s military might – first by trying (and failing) to fight off the Gothic Tribes attacking the Empire from the North, and then by defeating (just barely) two separate internal rebellions. In the end, the Empires separated again, never to rejoin.

As for the Goths, their chieftain, Alaric, invaded Italy twice, was defeated twice, and decided maybe it’d be a good idea to stay home during the next invasion. The General who defeated him, it began to be whispered, had made a deal with him – a rumor that pissed-off the Western Emperor, Honorius.  In retaliation, Honorius ordered the execution of the General and his entire family. Not content with that, Honorius next incited the Roman people to rise up and murder the wives and children of thousands upon thousands of Goths serving in the Roman Army!

The Goths were … upset.

Jesus Christ

•February 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Unknown-2

 

(What follows is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released book Messed-Up!  ©2015 Scott Davis, All Rights Reserved to Author)

Late in the reign of Caesar Augustus, a kid was born in the City of Bethlehem, in the Roman Province of Judea.

Well, so the Gospels of Mathew and Luke say, anyway:  the nativity story specifically mentions a census, which is why Joseph and his pregnant wife were there, instead of back home in Nazareth – but there are no records of that census. No records of a Nova, or Supernova, or Comet, that might correspond to the Star of the Nativity. No records of any Kings, wise men, or itinerant scholars crossing the territory of Herod the Great. No Records of the slaughter of the innocents Herod is said to have ordered … and records of all of these events should exist.

I’m not saying none of it happened – as a matter of fact, I think some of it did, especially the birth of Jesus, because, let’s face it, no one starts a religion over a completely non-existent, fictitious person – um, except the Northmen … also the Celts, Greeks, Gaulish Tribes, Germanic Tribes, the Romans … er, ok, look, lots of people have started lots of religions over fictitious people – but I’ve always thought this one was the real McCoy!

 

My point is, it sure looks like God has gone to enormous effort to see to it that we have to take all this on faith. Go figure.

Judea was kind of a pain in the ass to Rome:  they didn’t really produce much of interest, except fanatic anti-Roman rebels – but the strategic position of the place meant it had to be held:  from Judea you can attack north into Turkey, East into Persia, or Southwest into Egypt. (If you really wanted to, you could attack Southeast into the great Saudi Desert – but, apart from pissing your troops off, you wouldn’t really accomplish much, as there aren’t many people to subjugate, there – which probably forms the biggest reason the Romans never did it).

The trouble was, the people who lived in Judea had been subjugated over and over again by Egypt, Babylon, Alexander, and now Rome – and they were pissed about it. Apart from that, they were, in the words of their own Deity, a “stiff necked people”: they had this bizarre religion with only one God, and these prophesies of a great king coming, and these freaking fanatics who figured they could jump-start the coming revolution, by starting a rebellion now!

Oy!

Back to Jesus. The kid became a man, the man became a wandering preacher, and flocks of people started showing up to hear him speak, or maybe have him perform a miracle or two. ‘Flocks’ is actually putting it mildly – hordes of people is really closer to the truth. Everyone started taking notice of him – especially after John the Baptist told everyone to follow Jesus, because he himself wasn’t worthy to untie the sandals, yada-yada, and besides, he had an appointment with the headsman.

(The story of John the baptist includes one of the very few times an angel – more properly, an Archangel – lost his temper … the story goes that John’s dad, a priest, was doing duty in the Temple, when said Archangel appears and tells him his wife is gonna bear a mighty prophet – and he’s to name him ‘John’.  Zacharias, John’s dad, points out that his wife, Elizabeth, is getting on in years, so how the heck? The Archangel snaps back that he is Gabriel – who stands day and night in the presence of the Lord – and, because he hadn’t believed him, Zacharias will be mute till all that has been told to him comes true.  Elizabeth conceives and eventually bears a son, and when they turn to Zacharias for what to call the boy, he writes – “His name is John” – whereupon his voice is miraculously returned. It should be noted that 5 months after the incident in the Temple, the very same Archangel appeared to Mary, soon-to-be mother of Jesus, and told her she would conceive – and when she asked how that was going to happen, since she was a virgin, Gabriel did NOT get snooty with her, but explained gently and reasonably how it was going to work.  This remains one of the very few times in the Bible, where a woman got off lighter than a man for the same offense.)

Other people, specifically the Sanhedrin, the priestly high council, took a much dimmer view of Jesus and his teachings. Even more specifically, Jesus upset the Pharisees, a sect of … well, the modern equivalent are Baptists:  very strict beliefs and they go out of their way to make sure everyone knows that they are righteous, whether they actually are, or not. I don’t know why the Pharisees had it in for Jesus, but it’s clear they did:  every time Jesus showed up in a city, some Pharisees would appear and try and trip him up with cunning questions and logic traps designed to show him for the blasphemer they were sure that he was … (this is probably why he spent so much time preaching outside the towns – it seems the Pharisees couldn’t be bothered to get out in the country much.) It made them nuts that he refused to be tripped-up. More so that he kept making them look like jerks – which, in all fairness, wasn’t really that hard, since they were.

As for Jesus, the heart of his teachings – the revolutionary doctrine for which he must be put to death – amounted to “love God, and be nice to each other”.

Holy. Shit.

Worse, he wasn’t just saying these things, he was actually living his life like he believed them!!!

“Look,” the pharisees explained, “You can’t just tell people to be nice – there’s all these laws they have to obey, and that’s what’s important to God!”

Jesus replied that he wasn’t telling people not to follow the laws – they could follow all those laws and still be nice – it wouldn’t hurt them a bit.

And so it went. Eventually, after 3 years of being dogged by the Pharisees, and constantly picked at by them, Jesus began to be a little … critical … of them. He is known to have lost his temper only twice in his entire ministry: once at the money-changers infesting the Temple, and once at the Pharisees. Don’t take my word for it, look it up:  Luke 11 – the really good stuff starts at verse 13 … pretty much the same speeches appear in Mathew, chapter 28:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, Hypocrites! You shut up the kingdom of Heaven – you neither go in yourselves, nor suffer others to do so!”

He goes on for quite some time, the major point being that the Pharisees were hypocritical holier-than-thou jerks, who would almost assuredly need air conditioning in the afterlife if they didn’t get their stuff together. It’s actually a masterpiece of invective – he never engages in foul language, while still calling the Pharisees some very nasty things, making his point with awesome eloquence!

“Ye are whited sepulchers” he raged,  “all clean and fair without, but, within, full of dead men’s bones and all corruption!”

That one’s my favorite. Anyway, my point is: regardless of who started it, he had now publicly decried the Pharisees – and they were out for blood. (Nota Bene, if it’s your intention to start a society-changing, grass-roots movement toward either spiritual or political purity, it will almost certainly not work out for you if you tell powerful hypocritical ass-holes that they are hypocritical ass-holes.  Trust me on this one.)

The problem, from their point of view, was that they couldn’t just try him and execute him themselves: Rome’s rules allowed them considerable freedom in enforcing their religion’s laws – but they weren’t allowed to put anyone to death, without the permission of the Roman governor … and the governor probably wasn’t going to let them execute a man for calling them hypocrites and saying everyone ought to be nice to each other.

On the other hand, people were calling him the messiah – and the common folk had welcomed him to Jerusalem with palm branches and cries of Hosanna, just as they would have welcomed a King! That was something they could take to the Romans – who took a very dim view of anyone they hadn’t appointed to the job calling himself a king. Still, however much it might upset the Romans, it wasn’t actually against Jewish law for a man to claim to be a king, and it was deeply important to the Pharisees to find something they could charge him with under Jewish Law: Jesus had, after all, called them hypocrites, and it wasn’t enough to just punish him, they needed to destroy his religious credibility … what they needed was a Jewish capital offense that they could execute him for – and whatever else might be said about Jewish law, there just weren’t that many Capital Offenses left …

“Wait a second,” one of them probably commented, at about this point, “Hasn’t he been implying he’s God’s son? I mean, that would be blasphemy, right?”

“Well, sure – unless it’s true,” another probably replied, “and how likely is that?”

Blasphemy wasn’t just a capital offense, it was the capital offense! The big one: any wandering preacher convicted of blasphemy, was finished (even before being dead, which would almost certainly be next.)

So now they had the charge to trump up, and the pretext to offer the Romans – all they needed was proof! This, however, proved problematic, as Jesus never actually used those words … they were able to dig up plenty of witnesses who’d heard him call himself “Son of Man”, but that wasn’t blasphemous, since everyone else who mattered was a son of man (women didn’t count) … they found some others who’d heard his disciples call him “Son of God”, but they couldn’t execute one guy, because someone else said he was divine!

Since they couldn’t actually find proof, they opted to buy some, instead. They rounded up some guys who’d say what they were told to say, for some coin.  There was, however, one final problem: it was Passover, and the city of Jerusalem was simply packed with Jews … no one knew where he could be found, and, if the Temple guards just wandered around looking for him, he’d get wind of it and vanish. Fortunately, they did know where to find one of his disciples – and the guy was starting to have doubts. They offered him 30 silver talents (possibly shekels, or maybe denarii) to lead them to Jesus …

“Don’t worry,” they explained, “we just want to talk to him!” and the poor schmuck bought it.

They arrested him, and tried him before the Sanhedrin – where their purchased witnesses proved to be less credible than they’d hoped. Finally, Caiphas, the High Priest, demanded of Jesus whether he was the messiah – something that wasn’t at all illegal to call himself.

So he affirmed that he was.

Blasphemy is a curious crime: if you work at it, you can make even the most innocent statements seem blasphemous – including statements like “I am the Anointed One”, which was the literal meaning of Messiah – the truth or falsehood of which could not be known by the Priests, but would only be revealed by God, in his own good time. Sadly, it is the central attribute of holier-than-thou types that they believe that they, alone, know what’s on God’s mind, and anyone else who makes such a claim is a blasphemer. In this case, the Sanhedrin decided that “messiah” and “son of God” were identical, so Jesus’ admission was good enough for them. Now they just had to get the Romans to Rubber-stamp his execution order.

The Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, heard the charges somewhat incredulously.

“Isn’t this the guy who’s been saying everyone should be nice to each other?” he demanded, and the Pharisees had to admit that he was.

“I don’t see anything wrong with that.” He shrugged.

“But he claims to be a king!” the Pharisees whined.

Pilate frowned at Jesus. “Do you claim to be a king?” he asked.

Jesus replied that his kingdom was not of this world.

That sounded pretty freaking nuts to Pilate – and being nuts wasn’t a capital offense in Rome, as several Caesars would later make clear (google Tiberias, Caligula, and Nero, if you want to know just how extremely nuts Romans could get). Pilate didn’t want to piss off the Priests – not with the city so full of potential rioters – but he also didn’t want to kill Jesus just for being a little bit nuts. About then, someone mentioned to him that Jesus was from up north in Galilee – out of Pilate’s jurisdiction.

Pilate exclaimed, “Take this guy to Herod!”

Herod Antipater was a younger, more weasily, version of the King who was supposed to have killed all the kids. He’d had John the Baptist arrested for calling him an adulterer – because, damn it, he was an adulterer, and we can’t have people yelling ugly truths to anyone who’ll listen! His Wife/Sister-in-law, and her daughter, eventually connived to have the Baptist executed, and that fact haunted Herod a bit – not enough to make him stop boinking her, but it did give him a bit of pause when they dragged yet another holy man in front of him. He tried to get him to do a miracle, just for entertainment’s sake, but Jesus was silent throughout the interview. Herod decided it would be enough to make fun of him – and then ordered him taken back to Pilate, since whatever the hell Jesus had done, had been done in Jerusalem, and was, therefore, Pilate’s problem.

“Look,” Pilate said to the Priests, “I don’t see that he’s done any wrong – so how about I have him scourged and you guys call it a day?”

Without waiting for a reply, Pilate ordered Jesus scourged – which is horrifically worse than whipping, as it was done with a cat-of-nine-tails:  12 lashes is guaranteed to make hamburger out of a man’s back, and there’s reason to think it was actually 24 lashes. While they were at it, the guards dressed him up in a horse blanket, and gave him a reed scepter and a crown of thorns, so when they dragged him back before Pilate, he was not only horribly bloody, but made a ridiculous caricature of a king.

“Behold the Man!” Pilate snapped at the Pharisees – but they didn’t back down, and continued demanding his execution, and it began to be clear to Pilate that they’d whip the crowd into a freaking frenzy if they didn’t get what they wanted. He was already in trouble with Caesar for harshness in his treatment of the Jews, and if there was a riot it would have to be put down with Roman steel – and it was sort of doubtful that there was enough Roman steel to handle the immense crowd of Jews in town from all over the country. A riot just wasn’t gonna be good for anyone. At all. Except maybe the priests. And the Anti-Roman fanatics.

Pilate had one final card to play:  it was customary at passover to free a condemned prisoner – he’d let the crowd decide whether it would be Jesus, or the only other prisoner they had, Barabbas, a murderer.  This plan might have worked, had the crowd been made up of the ordinary people of Jerusalem. Sadly, a lot of the people in the crowd had been bought off. It is a known fact that fanatics and the men they’d bought off yell far louder than ordinary types who withhold judgement.

Jesus was executed by the typically gruesome Roman method of Crucifixion.

Shortly after he died, it became dark as night, though it was still mid-afternoon, there was a huge thunderstorm, tons of hail, and an earthquake. The curtain of the Holy of Holies – the chamber deep within the temple where priests were supposed to commune with their God – was rent from top to bottom, effectively proclaiming to the world that Elvis had left the building!

The Pharisees began to be a little nervous.

Three days later, despite guards posted to prevent anyone from swiping the body – his body disappeared from his tomb, and people began to claim he was walking around and talking, and he wasn’t a ghost, as he demonstrated by eating a fish, and reportedly was later taken up into heaven. The important thing was, whether he was dead, or translated, his message was very much alive, and his followers were reinvigorated, and soon split up to make their way to every part of the Roman Empire, preaching love of God, Christ resurrected, and, of course, that people should be nice to each other.

Heresy

•February 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

 

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(What follows is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released book Messed-Up! ©2016 Scott Davis, All Rights Reserved to Author)

Ancient religions tended to be complex:  there were usually a whole pantheon of gods, each of which had his own province or specialty. This led to a host of problems, mostly centering around the idea of offerings. While ordinary people could maybe afford to secure the goodwill of one or even two gods, no one could afford to make offerings to them all! For most people, this wasn’t a huge problem: they just had to figure out which aspect of their lives was most in need of help, and make offerings to whichever god was in charge of that. Farmers would make offerings to the deity of the harvest, hunters would make offerings to the deity of the hunt, warriors would make offerings to the deity of war, and housewives and hookers would make offerings to the deity of love (in most cases this was a goddess. Oddly, housewives made offerings to this deity that they might become pregnant, while prostitutes tended to make offerings to her that they might not.)

(Don’t make that face. Prostitutes did, in fact, have their own Temple, at least in the ancient city of Corinth. There, the Greek geographer Strabo states, “The temple of Aphrodite was once so rich that it had acquired more than a thousand prostitutes, donated by men and women to the service of the goddess.” His other remarks on the subject involve sailors and ship captains spending fortunes there. Look, I’m not joking, ok? Google it.)

This was all well and good for ordinary folk, but a king had to be concerned with all these things. If there was a bad harvest, an unsuccessful military campaign, or a storm that wrecked all the ships, the king tended to get the blame. Whether they genuinely felt responsible for the fortunes of their kingdoms, or were simply concerned that too much bad press would see them out of a job, kings felt the need to propitiate all the important gods. You might think that a king could afford to make offerings right and left, but you’d be wrong:  kings had to maintain armies, and pay for monuments – and even with slave-labor for monuments, the things weren’t cheap!

A number of useful end-arounds began to be used – the most popular was for the king to declare himself to be a god:  this basically enabled him to make offerings to himself for successful harvests, wars, shipping ventures, etc. The priesthood might complain that this was cheating – but this very often resulted in the king passing laws like “All Priests will hereinafter be Eunuchs”. People be stupid – but once the king of Babylon made this proclamation, priests far and wide learned to keep their mouths shut and just deal with it!

(It is a truism of history that men will usually compromise their principles in order to avoid castration, as can be seen in most modern marital relations. In these enlightened modern times, most women keep their husband’s testicles in their panty-drawer.)

Many ancient civilizations declared their kings to be gods, and Egypt was no exception, but, where other ancient civilizations might put up a few minor monuments, and raise an army only when they needed one, the Egyptians tended to keep a standing army, and make regular raids on the surrounding peoples so as to enslave them, because they were really into making monuments. Big ones. Like Pyramids. As time went on, each Pharaoh felt the need to out-do the last one, and it was damned expensive, even though the Pharaohs used the standard “I am a god” dodge to reduce the cost of religious observances.

Then, in about 1350 BC, a Pharaoh of Egypt had an epiphany.

Among their other weirdnesses, the Egyptian royal line was known for inbreeding on a scale that would have shocked even modern Mississippi.  One consequence of this was that Pharaoh Amenhotep IV was a spindly little grotesque who felt he could do as he pleased, and was too imbecilic to realize there would eventually be consequences. Soon after taking the throne he declared A) he wasn’t a god, B) none of the other gods were gods, either, and C) except Aten, who was THE one and only supreme creator and source of all blessings.

The people of Egypt were rattled. It was like daddy had just sat them down and declared Santa Claus to be a hoax. Worse, none of them had even heard of Aten, whom, the Pharaoh explained, was the deified disk of the sun, but was not the sun god, Amon-Ra, who was a fraud. The priests of all those former gods and goddesses were rattled, too, and found themselves fired without even unemployment pay (which wouldn’t be invented for another 4000 years) – and with no place to live, since Pharaoh had shut down all the temples. The artists of Egypt were also rattled, since Pharaoh decreed that A) it was illegal to depict any of the former gods and goddesses, and B) it soon after became illegal to depict Aten, who had transcended his creation and could no longer be adequately depicted in any fashion – for an Egyptian artist, these two proclamations were a disaster, since by far the greatest source of their income had been depicting gods!

Pharaoh Amenhotep ( which meant “Amon is Pleased”) soon decided he was not pleased with a name that referenced a fraudulent deity, and renamed himself Akhenaten (which meant “Effective for Aten” … something seems to be lost in translation.) He was also not pleased when he looked around himself at the city of Thebes, where, sadly, you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a depiction of a god (and seriously upsetting the cat, who had also been considered a deity before Akhenaten nixed the pantheon.) This, finally, rattled the slave-laborers, since the little fruitcake ordered them to build him an entirely new capital city at Amarna, which he would name after his shiny new god: Akhetaten ( “Horizon of the Aten”, apparently because all you could see from there to the horizon were inscriptions to the newly-minted deity.)

While he was in the process of making these sweeping historic changes, Akhenaten appropriated the treasuries of the fraudulent deity’s temples – ostensibly on behalf of Aten. It isn’t clear what all that dough was used for, beyond the construction of a brand new capital, but the priesthood of Amon-Ra had been enormously wealthy, and could probably have funded the construction of a city with their pocket-change.

‘Enormously Wealthy’, almost without exception in human history, equates to ‘Enormously Powerful’, and the Priests of Amon-Ra, despite being newly unemployed, still had some residual pull. The details aren’t known, but it can safely be assumed that the former priests orchestrated a fair amount of murmuring in the background. Still, the little nut-bar was Pharaoh, and no one really had the stones to revolt until he died. In fact, the return to the status quo took several years and a few temporary Pharaohs (King Tut among them) after Akhenaten croaked – but, if it was slow to begin, it was, nevertheless, thorough. Akhenaten, and the entire line of his descendants were essentially erased from history. Aten’s city was abandoned, his worship outlawed, ALL the other gods were reinstated to divinity, the temples were reopened, their priesthoods restored, and pretty much every reference to Akhenaten or his wife and children was obliterated from every monument.  The temples of Aten were disassembled and used for building material elsewhere – which is basically the only way we know any of this:  when blocks with writing on them were used in a new structure, the written side was turned inward, where it wouldn’t be seen – until millennia later when they were excavated. Indeed, the whole reason Tutankhamun’s tomb escaped the notice of both robbers and archaeologists for 3200 years was that he was the son of Akhenaten and every record of his existence was destroyed.

Anyway, with the death of Akhenaten, mankind’s first experiment with monotheism was declared an epic fail, and everyone went back to worshiping many gods.

Everyone except the Jews, that is.

Judaism was founded around 3500 years ago, give or take a few centuries. In other words, within a couple of centuries, give or take, of Akhenaten’s rule. There has been quiet speculation, ever since the discovery of Akhenaten’s religious revolution, that the Jews got the idea of a single God in Egypt, where the descendants of Jacob were said to have been slaves. When this question is put to Jewish scholars, they are quick to claim that there were Israelite slaves in Egypt before Akhenaten, and that he probably got his idea of a single God from imperfectly overheard slave gossip. It seems unlikely that the answer will ever be known with any certainty – but, if it turns out to be the latter, it’s a good bet that history will be sued for Libel by a massive coalition of Jewish Law-Firms.

Anyway, according to the Scriptures, the Pharaoh of Egypt, during the time of Israelite servitude, decided that there were too many of them, and they were beginning to pose a threat. Still, Egypt had always had a need for slave-labor, and he couldn’t afford to kill them all, so he hit upon a solution that he felt was a ‘win-win’:  he ordered the slaughter of all newborn male infants.  This was a ‘win’ for him, because he wouldn’t have to worry about a ton of rebellious teenagers showing up in a few years – and he considered it a ‘win’ for the Israelites, because some of them would go on living, albeit in miserable bondage. What’s not to like?

Accordingly, as the word of the impending slaughter leaked out, an Israelite woman named Jochebed, who’d just given birth, decided her brand new baby boy stood a better chance floating in a basket on the river with the crocodiles, than he did against Pharaoh’s Newborn Massacre Squad. She took a basket, sealed it up with pitch, put the baby in it, and, completely ignoring his threats of legal action, dropped him in the river to fend for himself – the correct phrasing for which, at the time, was “put him in the hands of the Lord!”

The Lord apparently took the hand-off without a hitch, sprinted downstream, and lateraled to the daughter of Pharaoh, who was out having a refreshing bath.

Like most women, she was all “Oooo, a baby!”  and, despite the objections of her attendants, she filed for adoption, giving the child the name “Moses”, which some have interpreted as “Gift of the River”. (Incidentally, there are no records regarding Pharaoh’s feelings about a child of unknown parentage being raised as a prince of Egypt – but unless he’s the most inattentive parent ever, he had to have known that his daughter hadn’t given birth herself!  In view of this, I wish to register my objections that the scriptures contain no account of what happened when the Pharaoh asked “where the hell did that come from????” )

Scripture pretty much skips everything after that, until young Moses comes across an Egyptian smiting an Israelite, takes exception, and does some smiting of his own. Sadly, he smote rather harder than he intended and the Egyptian croaked. With cunning born of need, Moses dragged the body away and hid it in sand. Not long after, he came on some Israelites fighting and demanded to know why. One of them sneered at him and asked “What are you going to do? Kill us like you did that Egyptian?”

Oh. Shit.

At this point, Moses decided maybe it might be a really good time to tour the Sinai Desert.

He eventually ended up in a place called Midian, where a dude name Jethro managed the biggest sheep ranch in the region. At dinner, Jethro explained that he had loads of daughters, no sons, and – hey, Moses wouldn’t happen to be into sheep would he???

Moses quickly settled down when Jethro hastily explained that he hadn’t meant it that way, and soon thereafter married one of Jethro’s daughters, and settled in to learn the sheep-ranching trade.

At some point thereafter, while rounding up some strays, he noticed a bush, high up on the slopes of the nearby haunted mountain.  Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have paid much attention:  there were bushes all over the place. This one, though, he noticed, was on fire – again nothing all that out of the ordinary – but it wasn’t being reduced to ashes as had been his experience with other fiery bushes, so he decided a closer look was called for.

Upon nearing the bush, he heard a voice come out from it, ordering him to halt, and remove his shoes, for he was standing on Holy Ground. A somewhat protracted conversation ensued, the bush explaining that it was actually the God of the Israelites, and that it had heard the wailing of his people that were in Egypt, and that Moses was to head on back there and convince Pharaoh to let them go.

One would think that, having received the commands of God, Moses would have saluted smartly, replied “Yes, sir!” and gotten right to it.  Moses, however had some … concerns.

According to scripture, Moses asked who he was, that he should approach Pharaoh?  The bush crackled in irritation, while most likely the Lord counted to ten Billion, then he assured Moses that he would be with him, and it would all work out. Moses then pointed out that he wasn’t much at public speaking, so maybe God should find someone else. The bush fumed for a moment in silence, while presumably the Lord counted to ten trillion, then he told Moses that the job was his, he wasn’t getting out of it – but, yeah, ok, he could get his brother, Aaron to be his mouthpiece.

Moses, having gotten his way – at least partially – may have been getting a little cocky. He had yet another issue:  if he was going to demand that Pharaoh release the Israelites in the name of their God, it was a good bet that Pharaoh would want to know just exactly what that name was.

The bush blazed ominously for several seconds, while presumably the Lord counted to ten quadrillion, then explained “I AM.”

Moses’ brow furrowed, “Excuse me?”

“I AM WHO I AM.”

Moses stared at the bush for a bit, “er, yes, well …”

“YOU SHALL SAY THAT I AM HAS SENT YOU.”

“Ah. Yes, well, that should do it, I expect.”

Scripture doesn’t say, but it seems likely, at this point, that the Lord may have thought “This is going to be a LONG exodus!”

Medicine

•February 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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(The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Messed Up!  ©2015 Scott Davis, All Rights Reserved to Author )

 

I’ve already mentioned the plethora of ideas regarding one variety or another of the Afterlife, and there’s no doubt that early man found these notions greatly comforting. Still, as the Theologian/Priest/Shaman was forced to admit, these ideas really only applied to the Next Life – and there were two major objections associated with the whole afterlife idea.

First, and most obviously, you had to DIE. Usually horribly: under the very best circumstances, Neanderthals had a life-span of maybe 40 years – far too young to develop heart-disease, cancer, or any of the other metabolic issues we typically associate with seniors, today.  The depressing fact was that Neanderthals were likely to die of A) Exposure, B) Starvation, C) Infection, or D) Cave Bears. None of them were nice ways to go, and people became convinced that, if there were another alternative, it would likely be preferable.

The second problem with the whole afterlife idea was that no one was certain. Oh, sure, the Shaman seemed pretty convinced of it, but no one had ever come back and reported on conditions after death. Particularly not after they’d been thoroughly buried.

More and more, people began demanding some means of avoiding – or at least delaying – the whole appointment with destiny thing.  You could avoid exposure by living in a nice cave, with lots of other people, at least one of whom knew how to start a fire without matches. You could avoid starvation by hanging out with really good hunters, and availing yourself of the very latest in rocks and fire-sharpened sticks. That left Infections, and Cave Bears – and it was quickly noticed that, even if someone managed to survive an encounter with a Cave Bear, the chances were good that they’d have some pretty impressive wounds, likely enough full of Cave Bear slobber, which were almost certain to develop seriously nasty infections!

What was needed was some way to keep mortality at bay – and, since the Shaman wasn’t going to be doing anything until it was time for the funeral, he seemed the logical choice for handling this issue. The Witch-Doctor was born.

There were two serious drawbacks to entrusting your life to a Priest or Shaman: First, since they were so convinced they had the whole afterlife-thing scoped-out, they had very little incentive to keep you alive; second, being religious, they tended to blame nearly everything on “Evil Spirits” or “The Will of the Gods”.  As a consequence, treatments tended to be spiritual, rather than physical, and there was no such thing as malpractice: if the patient died, it was “The Will of the Gods”, and the Shaman made it clear that this was, in no way, his responsibility.

At first, witch-doctors probably used straight-forward common-sense treatments. If a hunter got mauled by a Cave-Bear, the Witch-Doctor would wash all the Cave-Bear slobber out of the wound with water, then bind it up so that it wouldn’t keep leaking blood all over his nice clean cave floor. He would almost certainly then tell the hunter and his family that it likely wouldn’t make any difference, because almost everyone else he’d treated with similar wounds had croaked.

After this had happened a few times, it’s likely that even the stupidest Neanderthal Clan would start looking for a new Witch-Doctor.

At some point, some Witch-Doctor realized that it wasn’t enough to just treat the wounds: he needed to inspire fear, awe, wonder, and other such popular emotions, or  the Clan would just kick his ass out to freeze (this all took place during the last Ice-Age, and it was freaking cold everywhere outside the cave.) If, on the other hand, he could convince the Clan that the gods were on his side, there was considerably less chance that any of them would have the stones to kick him out.

Spiritual Rituals were invented.

It probably wasn’t as cynical as I’m making it sound; the prevailing medical theory of the day likely involved Evil Spirits (in the case of Cave-Bear-induced gangrene they were smelly, stinking, Evil Spirits.) No one had any idea how to kill Evil Spirits, so they likely concentrated on just scaring them away. Since people could be frightened by a grotesquely painted witch-doctor with a bizarre head-dress of some sort, it seemed reasonable that this might frighten Evil Spirits, as well. As time went on, and the Clan became inured to the sight of their grotesque Witch-Doctor, it seemed a fair bet that the Evil Spirits had gotten used to it as well – the only way to up the ante was to do a scary dance, or maybe toss something on the fire that would make colored or smelly smoke. As even these things came to be accepted, it would have become necessary to come up with more elaborate rituals, involving elaborate incantations, and perhaps noise-makers of some sort (tie a bunch of little bones loosely to a stick and shake it: it makes an effective rattle, and, as anyone who’s ever come across a rattlesnake can tell you, this is a perfectly sinister noise, likely to make any Evil Spirits in the vicinity think their mother-in-law was approaching!)

This may, indeed, have been the pinnacle of the physician’s mystique: elaborate rituals are far more impressive, after all, than “Take these pills and don’t bother me while I’m on the Golf Course.”

Nowadays, of course, we know that no Evil Spirits were involved – unless they were microscopic and closely resembled bacteria. No matter what the Witch-Doctor did, infections tended to take one of two courses:  the patient becomes delirious and dies, or some part of his body rots off, and then he becomes delirious and dies. In neither case is the patient likely to be coherent enough to demand that SOMETHING, ANYTHING, be done (if he does moan something like  “Why the hell aren’t you doing something?!?” it would likely be put down to delirium.)

Migraines are a whole ‘nother matter!

As a sufferer of Migraines, I can assure you that once one is up and running, you’ll be willing to consider ANYTHING AT ALL that might give some relief … We know that there were migraine sufferers way back then, because we’ve found quite a few of their skulls – with enormous holes cut in them, presumably to let out the Evil Spirits. How do I know these were Migraine sufferers? Simple:  only a migraine sufferer is going to be willing to allow someone to cut his skull open with a freaking rock!

Amazingly, at least SOME of these operations were successful (in the sense that the patient remained alive to complain about the bill.)  We know this, because in many cases, the bone began to re-grow – a process taking years. While current medical opinion is divided on whether cutting holes in the skull would lead to any alleviation of Migraine symptoms, in the absence of firm medical consensus, pretty much all  Migraine sufferers will wonder, at some point or another, whether it might help.

Trading in on the immense prestige gained from A) convincing a man to let his skull be opened with a rock, and B) preventing the poor bastard from dying, early Witch-Doctors found themselves immensely respected/feared – and pretty much free to do anything they pleased, in the way of experimenting with cures.  Sadly, given the lack of writing, Professional Journals, or Gossip on the Putting Green, we’ve no way of knowing what sorts of remedies got tried, or how successful they might have been. A Neanderthal burial in Shanidar Cave, Iraq, was originally thought to have been a Medicine Man because of the wide variety of medicinal herb seeds found in the grave – later it was discovered that Gerbils had been burrowing there, and had likely deposited the seeds.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Gerbils knew at least as much about medicine as early Man!

The earliest written records of medical treatments begin with the Egyptians. It’s a virtual certainty that medicine was being practiced at the same time in India, China, and Mesopotamia, but they were apparently a lot more secretive about it all, or simply entrusted the practice of it to illiterates, as Europeans would many centuries later. Imhotep is the earliest physician whose name is known, and, given the fact that formal medicine was almost certainly practiced only by men, it should come as no surprise that the earliest medical textbook is a scroll describing gynecological issues.  (There is no mention made of the miraculous properties of Häagen Daz, as, sadly, it would not be invented for about 4,000 more years.)

By this time there had been advances in Medical Theory. Evil spirits had not been entirely exonerated of making people sick – but additional suspects had been identified: the gods. In an early crisis of faith, people had realized that they were doing all this praying and making all these sacrifices, and Bad Things continued to happen! Early concerns that the Priest/Shaman hadn’t known what he was talking about were dismissed when the priests frightened everyone by producing colored smoke from the fire instead of the normal white stuff. The hand of the priests was further strengthened when they forced carefully selected young virgins to breathe the smoke, and the young ladies commenced to babble deliriously – an event the Priests described as Inspirational Prophesy, which, they modestly explained, only they were able to interpret.

(This was, by the way, how the term “inspiration”, which literally translated to “Breathe In”, made its way into religious terminology.)

Listening carefully to the babbling young virgins, the Priests were later able to translate the commandments of the Gods which were 1) Don’t blame the Priests when bad things happen, 2) Add wine to the list of stuff you’re sacrificing, 3) provide new virgins now and then, and 4) don’t ask any questions about what the priests are doing with them after hours.

The people, after some debate, decided that the Priests must know what they’re talking about, since they’d studied the ways of the Gods since childhood – years sinful people spent learning to hunt, gather, sow, reap, fight, construct, and do other sinful things. It completely sucked that it was going to cost them some virgins, but, if it meant people would be safer, they decided they could live with it. Besides, someone had pointed out, with some significant gestures at the more mature NON-Virgins in the crowd, it was always possible to make more!

In time (and after the consumption of quite a few virgins,) the priests were able to explain that, while some diseases still were, undeniably, the work of evil spirits, others amounted to lessons from the Gods, which could be cured by propitiation.

This led to an entirely new class of disorders, the diagnosis of which often consisted of “You have angered the gods, and are being punished!”  Given the number of gods in play, their known capriciousness, and the fact that nearly every human being can find SOMETHING to feel guilty about, this Theory of Medicine would remain viable for the next several thousand years.  The Medical practice based on this theory amounted to determining which god had been pissed-off, by which offense, and advising the patient to “cough up a sacrifice and you may be forgiven …”  (Note how “cough up”, with it’s medical connotations, and “pay up” have always been considered equivalent.)

If the patient got better, his sacrifice had been accepted and all was forgiven, go and sin no more. The cured patient would likely credit the Witch-Doctor/Medicine-Man with knowing which god had been pissed, what the god had been pissed about, and the best way to appease him/her/it.

Similarly, if the guy DIDN’T get well, NONE of it reflected badly on the Witch-Doctor/Medicine-Man, since it was the patient’s fault for not coming up with a better sacrifice, or offering it more contritely!  It might also be suggested that the god was just too freaking pissed and NO sacrifice would have been sufficient. This simple conjugation of theory and practice completely obviated the need for anything resembling Malpractice Insurance – and, for this reason, the “Divine Wrath” theory of medicine remained viable well into historical times, and is frequently used as a last resort even in our modern age.

Still, it wasn’t perfect. Protestations by various sufferers that they hadn’t done ANYTHING worthy of punishment might be treated as denial, but, when they pointed out that their infants frequently got sick, long before they could have done anything sinful, the Priests had little reply to make except that maybe the parent had pissed off a god who was punishing the kid instead.

This sort of thing was likely to get the Priest punched in the nose.

The next phase of Medical theory was Symptomatic Treatment, or “We don’t know what’s wrong, or why it works, but try this stuff …” Obviously, this can only get you so far, and even the awe brought about by successful Trephinations begins to wear off if the phrase “Wow, I really have no clue!” gets used too often, and the dude can’t prevent a scratch from developing into sepsis. Also, nothing is likely to make family members get up in a Doctor’s face more quickly than a dying relative, and unavailing treatments.  Attempts by some Witch-Doctors to scare the family members away with the same hideous masks used to frighten Evil Spirits were only moderately successful.

The Chasm

•February 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment
Abstract Silhouette Praying

Sadness

 

You can feel it coming, most of the time. Feel it looming like a great wave, or building like a stormy sky. Sometimes you can feel it coming on, inevitable, unavoidable, inescapable. Sometimes for days.

Sometimes, it comes crashing down with no warning.

One minute you’re ok, and the next, you’re weeping – and all you know is that there’s no freaking reason for it! The world is suddenly dark, without any excuse.  People feel this way when they experience a great loss – that’s understandable! That makes sense! It’s reasonable!

For people like me, there is no reason. It’s why so many take their lives:  it’s not that the pain can’t be borne (though sometimes it feels that way) – its that there is no explanation we can share with anyone else!  A pain that can be shared can be dealt with. Allowing another to help bear your pain is allowing someone in … proving that you aren’t alone. Explaining your hurt to another defuses it, and allows you to gain perspective, allows you to push the pain to arm’s length so you can examine it. It’s the first stage in dealing with it.

People like me don’t get that opportunity.

I can explain to another that I’m hurting. I can explain the neurophysiology behind it. I can go into detail about the amygdala, and neurotransmitters, and empty synapses, and medication and NONE OF IT CAN EXPLAIN WHY!!!

Humans need the why.  We’re wired to see problems and seek solutions.  Forget about the opposable thumb and upright walking and larger brains – the uniqueness of the order Hominidae is that we are problem-solvers.  Every hominid that has ever walked this planet has done so fueled by curiosity and a need to solve the problem!

We don’t like to think about problems that have no solution. It’s why Cancer, and Schizophrenia are so difficult to talk about.  It’s why there’s so much frustration dealing with a woman who keeps going back to her abusive husband. It’s why no one really wants to talk to someone with major depressive disorder, or bipolar depression.

If there’s no solution, something fundamental in our nature is offended – and a problem that cannot be defined, absolutely cannot be solved.

When it comes crashing down, suddenly, like this, I call it the Chasm.  I say it comes crashing down, but the truth is, it’s like falling over a cliff – the only difference being this cliff won’t kill you – not directly, anyway.

There were once people who cared about me, people who loved me, people who genuinely wanted to help. But first they need an explanation – and there isn’t one. And the more they want to discuss it, the less we want to answer, because we don’t know why, and talking about it only forces us to think about it, and fuck me with a fork I’m trying to NOT think about it!!!

We’re raised believing that a problem must be admitted to be resolved – and that’s absolutely true for most problems!  Not depression, though: depressives aren’t in denial – they’re perfectly well aware that they feel miserable, and many may even know the problem is physical, not mental. Admitting that there is a problem doesn’t do anything to solve this particular one!

We take our meds. We seek the help of a doctor, when the meds don’t do the trick – beyond that, there’s nothing that can be done: we’re trapped at the bottom of the chasm, till it’s light enough to find a path leading out.

Golden Years

•February 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

images-3

 

(What follows is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released book Messed-Up! ©2015 Scott Davis, All Rights Reserved)

When you get right down to it, money is a pretty bizarre concept. Look at a penny:  it’s a little disk made of a metal most people no longer have any use for, yet it is accorded the value of 1/100th of a dollar.  People work all their lives to earn dollars, which they then trade to other people for food, clothing, housing, trips to Bermuda, and cars. We trade dollars to skilled Physicians (primarily skilled at charging us more dollars) to heal our ailments, and some people actually accumulate enough of the stuff to trade it to other men to work for them.

The thing is, it doesn’t exist. It’s just a concept. A number. Don’t believe me? Not long ago, someone invented a fictitious currency called the bit-coin, and people immediately bought hundreds of thousands of them on the internet. You can’t keep a bit-coin in a bank, or use it to buy food … it wasn’t backed up by bullion Stored at Fort Knox, nor is it FDIC Insured – but you can buy all kinds of things online with them!

That is freaking nuts!

The idea of currency began with barter:  Man ‘A’ has got some apples, and he’ll give some to man ‘B’ in return for some oranges.  Like that. Next, of course, people began to compare apples and oranges, in an attempt to determine how many apples were a fair exchange for x number of oranges. It gets worse:  it turns out the guy with the oranges doesn’t like apples, and will only accept a gallon of milk for some of them, and Man ‘A’ doesn’t have a cow. He goes and finds the owner of a cow, and he doesn’t like apples either, and wants hay for his horse which shares a barn with the cow, which Man ‘A’ also doesn’t have.

It really is not going to take long before Man ‘A’ grows murderous with frustration, kills the guy with the cow, steals the horse, and rides it to raid the orange orchard, which he then burns to the ground in his enthusiasm after killing Man ‘B’, but before raping Man ‘B’s’ wife – and, during the burning of the orchard, of course, he barbecues the cow.

This, everyone soon agreed, was not civilized.

Ok, what we need here is neither apples, nor oranges, nor milk, nor hay, and certainly not a murderous rampage, accompanied by arson, rape, and barbecue. We need currency. Something Man ‘A’ can trade Man ‘B’, which Man ‘B’ can trade for milk, and the milk-guy can trade for hay. Everyone’s happy, no one is dead, and Man ‘B’s’ wife remains unviolated, though it’s a fair bet that he treats her like crap and she’s planning to divorce his sorry ass for alimony in the form of, yes, currency!

The idea of currency was invented in around 2000 BC.  A metal coin had cut into it a number which corresponded to how much grain you could buy with it in ancient Sumer, then Egypt. Trade was based on this principle, of, in effect, valuing everything in grain, for nearly 1500 years. Then people began asking awkward questions like “How do I know the grain is actually there?” and “How do I know those bastards from Nineveh aren’t going to break in and steal the grain?” (This was, of course, before everyone got together and solved the problem of those bastards from Nineveh, by sacking the place and burning it to the ground.)

The whole system pretty much went to hell, till late in the bronze age, when a series of treaties were established that set-up trade practices, and a sort of Ox-shaped copper ingot from Cyprus started being used as currency. I’ll give you three guesses what happened next, but you really should only need one – pirates started raiding the ships with the ingots.

(Ok, look, if you actually didn’t get it on the first guess, you missed three important facts: Cyprus is an island, people rob one another, and robbers at sea are called pirates. )

Real coinage started with a guy named Croesus of Lydia. To this day, no one is sure why gold was the medium. I mean it’s pretty, sure, but virtually useless for anything but decoration. Worse, it’s really heavy. The thing is, there are few metals in the world easier to purify, melt down, and cast and the Lydians were just as lazy as the rest of humanity. Plus, I suppose, there was little point in trading away a metal you could make swords with, so why not something as useless as gold?  The discovery, moreover, that you could scrape gold across a touchstone, and determine its purity from the color of the mark it made went a long way toward satisfying merchants that the guy they were trading with wasn’t cheating them – it was bad enough that they were dealing with one metal that couldn’t be used for anything practical, but early traders were damned if they were going to stand for someone foisting an even more useless pretty metal on them!  As a result, pretty soon little gold coins started circulating all over the Aegean, and soon after all over the known world.  A particular weight of gold could be assigned as the value of a commodity or service, and people started trading with the things in greater and greater measure,

Naturally, there was a hitch:  human beings are freaking cheats.

Almost as soon as people began exchanging things made of gold, other people began falsifying gold things, in order to cheat one another. You could do this by a number of methods: a favorite was to mix silver and gold.  This was the method used by a crooked goldsmith in Syracuse, who’d been commissioned to craft a crown of gold for the local king, and given the gold required. He figured he could pass off a knock-off of silver and gold, and pocket the extra …

Archimedes nixed that notion while taking a bath, leading to punishment for the goldsmith and 2300 years of laughter at his own expense, because he didn’t bother to get dressed after making his discovery, and ran through Syracuse butt-naked screaming like a madman.  (This is the first recorded incident of streaking – and it wasn’t so much the nakedness as it was the manic shrieking that got him in trouble.)

Most people, though, did not have Archimedes, with or without clothing, on their side.

Over time, people got smarter and smarter about spotting counterfeits, though it’s still such a popular way of making money that the US treasury has gone to absolutely incredible lengths to make money less easy to counterfeit. This, it turns out, is way easier when you’re making money with paper into which you can impress watermarks, hidden portraits, security strips, and secret signs of the New World Order. ( Shh! Don’t tell ANYONE. They have ears everywhere! )

Money was a real problem. Copper, silver, and especially gold, are pretty heavy to carry around, a fact which both camels and horses vigorously protested. It did no good whatsoever to explain to them that it was lighter than sacks and sacks of grain, because, let’s face it, they’re ungulates … that means extra stomachs, not brains.

Because counterfeiting was so common, even if you could persuade your camel or horse to carry you to the far end of the trade route, the guy you were dealing with might not accept it. That’s apart from the fact that, if your ship sank during the journey, even if you didn’t drown, you were screwed because no form of coinage ever produced would float. (Actually there are coins in equatorial Africa made of wood – then again, EVERYTHING in equatorial Africa that isn’t made of dirt or flesh, is made of wood, so it’s hard to maintain a standard rate of exchange.)

Apart from counterfeiters, the biggest threat to commerce was thieves … traders would set out with gold enough to buy what they needed for trade, and they’d get robbed on the way. At sea, they got robbed by ship-captains (this was called passage), or pirates (this was called booty), or Storms (this was called sinking). On land they were no safer:  they’d be robbed by the Caravan Drivers (this was called protection), the lords of whatever countries they passed-through (this was called a toll), the lords of the lands where they traded (this was called a tariff ), the Manager of the Market they traded in (this was called a booth– or stall-fee), and finally the customer (this was called bargaining ).  At any point along the way, it was almost refreshing to be robbed by actual robbers (this was called loot) – because at least they made no pretension to honesty!

It was almost enough to make you want to do without pepper.

Mostly I’ve been talking about western history, but, despite never being taught about it in 17 years of formal schooling in the US, I’ve been informed that China also has history. Lots of it, as it turns out. As it happens, along with gun-powder, pasta, the rudder, block writing, and sex toys, the Chinese also invented banknotes.

During the Han Dynasty, in 118 BC, some inscrutable Chinese type got the idea that if he left his money safe at home, and carried something declaring how much dough he had in the bank, he could trade with that, and the poor schmucks at the far end would just have to visit the bank to get their dough. Why they would be willing to do that, given the likelihood of them getting robbed on their travels, is unknown. Later, in the 7th century, official banknotes began to be issued, and were widely enough in circulation that the merchants just decided “what the hell” and started using them.  At least they were lighter and easier to hide than coins.

A similar innovation to the banknote began to be used in Europe during the Crusades. Prior to stealing the Grail Documents and black-mailing the Pope with their knowledge of Jesus’ secret marriage to Mary Magdalene, and hidden descendants (look, I saw it in a movie, ok? Ron Howard would not lie to me!) the Knights Templar constructed a series of forts guarding the northern routes that crusaders could take to get to where they were supposed to kill people.  A merchant headed for the Holy Land could stop in at his convenient local Templar Preceptory, pay a certain amount of gold to the Templars, who would issue him a note for that amount minus a nice cut … when he at last arrived in the Holy Land (if he arrived, rather than drowning, or dying of wounds or pestilence), he’d stop in at the local Templar fortress, hand them the note, and get his gold back … maybe minus another nice cut. If he didn’t make it, and lots didn’t, the templars got to keep the gold, unless someone rummaged the body and found the note. This is the beginning of International Banking in Europe – which is important because none of them knew jack about China.

Like all Bankers, the Templars got really freaking rich, really freaking fast!

They had forts, castles, and preceptories (a combination of temple, barracks, and training center) in every country in Christendom. They had money enough to loan it to governments, and pretty soon had their financial claws into virtually every royal family in Europe.  They had huge numbers of trained soldiers – often more than were possessed by the governments where their forts were located.  And they were jerks. Especially to King Phillip the Fair of France, who wasn’t, and who owed them a ton of money.

And then they lost the Holy Land to the Sultan Saladin, in a war that they largely started, which pretty much cost them all their backing in Europe. Rumors – likely started by various well-heeled cheapskates who owed them money – began to circulate about their secret initiation rites, and just what the hell did they do in all those forts and preceptories? Black magic, Idolatry, Paganism, and Sexual Perversions began to be whispered about – none of which was abated by the extreme secrecy with which the Templars surrounded themselves and their rites. Their arrogance and insistence that they were above the laws of the countries in which they dwelt didn’t help one bit, either.

In 1307 Philip saw his chance. He issued secret orders which were carried out simultaneously all over France, arresting every single Templar within his realm. While he was at it, he rounded up the Jews, too, because he owed them tons of money, as well, and there was little point in getting out from under his debt to the Templars, if he was just going to be bankrupted by the Jews.

For the Templars there was the inevitable torturing, and questioning where no matter what you said you were screwed, and the Right to Keep Your Trap Shut had not yet been invented, and then there was the traditional burning at the stake, accompanied by marshmallows.

No one knows what happened to all their money.

The Jews, for once, got off lighter, and were merely expelled from the Kingdom. Most of them went to Spain where they were soon joined by Jews from all over the rest of Europe – just in time for the Spanish Inquisition, with the inevitable torturing, and questioning where no matter what you said you were screwed, and the Right to Keep Your Trap Shut had not yet been invented, and then there was the traditional burning at the stake, accompanied by marshmallows.

There is a certain comforting predictability to human behavior.