Sunday, October 23, 2011

Black Death

I consume very little visual media.* I do have a very large tube television in my house, given to me by a friend, a massive TV that takes at least two, if not three men to move any distance. There is a groove in my maple hardwood floor, to remind me of the time I foisted it alone, from the floor to a short, sturdy oak coffee table. Where it sits, a blank screen staring darkly out, at my living room where I dance and sing (and sometimes lament my station), cold and without life but for a few hours this past year.

There are times when all I want to do is disappear into that television. These times are rare, and I indulge that desire even more rarely. The only movie rental option I have right now is Red Box, of which there are two within easy biking distance from my house. There was a Blockbuster Video. Last winter I enjoyed perusing that selection, which I exhausted in a month. Blockbuster, like Hollywood Video before it, and just about every independent video shop, evaporated into the wind of technological annihilation, in the last decade. I might try Netflix - I could probably hook my computer right to the TV - but Netflix is not a company I choose to support, I don't need to be watching that many movies, and streaming video on the public wifi is an exercise in frustration.

I have already exhausted the Red Box option. The Eagle was fun, a nice picture of the ancient landscape of my Celtic ancestors, a strong reminder of how much more vigorous that time was, how much more unjust and violent. The Green Hornet was emblematic of a more optimistic time in America, a more immature and self-congratulatory time. Being so far removed from the reality of the day, and so cartoonishly nihilistic and juvenile, it is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. The Social Network was an excellent piece, well acted - also one more reason I am indifferent to Facebook, and it is not a film to hold up as a model of entrepreneurialism, as some have suggested.

The Red Box is no joy, waiting in line as people browse. I typically order mine in advance, on-line. That, or I know what I'm looking for. One day recently, I selected True Grit. The Coen brothers are masters at their craft, and Jeff Bridges at his (though Tron was boring), and little Ms Hailee Steinfeld was awakening in her grasp of the character Mattie Ross. We forget how effectively lawless we have been in America, for much of our history. And how captive we have been to a dreary Judeo-Christian ethic, that really isn't much of anything but a means of coercion and control. As a companion, I randomly selected Black Death, having never heard of the film, which I expected to be bad.

Black Death is set in the British Isles, in 1348 at the onset of the bubonic plague. For those unfamiliar with history, the bubonic plague ravaged Europe in the 14th century, killing anywhere from 30-60% of the continental population. It reappeared periodically, spread by rats and fleas and filthy conditions, until the 19th century and improved sanitation. It weakened the power of the church, and restructured society from a feudal state, to peasants rights and an awakening in individual consciousness.

It is something indeed to see it on the screen. The film follows a band of mercenaries in service to the local Bishop, with their world-wise but young and unavoidably conditioned guide, an initiate monk, Osmond. These mercenaries are seeking a village that is rumored to be untouched by the plague, due to the machinations of demons, and a necromancer: sacrifice, the dead enlivened, men eating men, etc. Born and raised near the village, Osmond volunteers to guide the Bishop's Envoy and his men, because he believes it to be God's will; and, he is secretly following a woman.

(If you intend on watching the film, and I highly recommend it if you appreciate period films and can handle the violence, I suggest not reading further until you have.)

On the way to this village, Osmond attempts to intervene, as villagers are about to burn a supposed witch. She is no witch, but a just, kind and generous woman who lives close to the earth, and knows something about plants and the power of blessing. The scene is a reminder of how much European consciousness was twisted by Christianity, and the presence of mass death - that any woman not wholly controlled by the consciousness of the Church was suspect of witchery, many good women tortured and burned in the name of God, literally millions. The Bishop's Envoy, Ulrich, knows the woman is no witch, but he kills her anyway, because letting her loose, the crazed villagers would only track her down and burn her, and it would put Ulrich and his men in danger, because the Villagers are convinced burning the woman is the only way they will be saved from the plague.

Osmond leads the men to the village they seek, where they find not a necromancer or demons, but a simple village led by a woman. In contrast to the madness and sickliness we have seen elsewhere, this village is clean, calm, pleasant and abundant. There is no plague. There is a nice scene, these soldiers, covered in armor and blood, wielding their weapons, standing in the middle of the village, as the villagers gather, curious, wary and yet somehow unafraid, unarmed and seemingly peaceful.

The woman, Langiva, played by Carice van Houten, is luminous, like the goddess Brigit herself, in all her beauty and nurturing and sexual aspects, and also in her viciousness. She is no necromancer, but she has played the role. She tells young Osmond that the villagers have found the woman he is looking for, dead in the woods, and shows him the body. Later that evening, she presents him with a compelling scene, raising his lover from the dead. Her magic is no match for his embedded notion of the afterlife, and instead of running to his lover as she supposes he would, he runs away, terrified; thereby stumbling into the original party of four sent by the Bishop, before the arrival of the current rabble, previously missing - hanging by their wrists, bloody and dead, crucified. Osmond is captured. The soldiers are drugged and captured, and a kind of psychological battle ensues, over control of the the consciousness of the villagers - between the dominion of God or the dominion of the Goddess (though She is not named, and these villagers are said to be godless).

In that epic scene, Osmond is presented with his lover. She has only been drugged, but she is not yet fully herself (damned belladonna, datura?). Conditioned by the church, rather than trusting his senses, Osmond imagines her spirit residing in purgatory, that the body in front of him is not his lover. He kills her to save her - thereby tipping the balance in God's(dis)favor. The pagan, God-forsaking village is brought to ruin.

Osmond learns of his error - that his lover was never dead, that he killed his lover - and in that knowledge he grows cruel, he takes up the sword in the name of God, and spends the rest of his days hunting and torturing and killing women who threaten the dominion of the Church, with their beauty and independent ways.

Black Death is a study in the power of ideas. It is a reminder of what happens, when a masculine God is worshiped and the feminine Goddess is denied, no matter the intention. To place a male God at the pinnacle, is to give sanction to the men of violence, who seek control and practice domination. Just as it would be, in any village where the Goddess is revered at the expense of the masculine divine. It is similar to the ideological divide in modern politics, insofar as the rule of one side over the other is still rule, domination by coercion and control. We can't seem to fathom a village in which the masculine and the feminine are equally revered, where one is necessary to the other in every aspect. Instead, we follow those who divide, who practice control, filling our heads full of demons we are meant to perceive, in whatever Other that is to be subdued, destroyed, crushed, killed.

In America, the idea that there are demons is rampant. One cannot be Christian without believing so, and at least half the nation identifies as Christian. Notice too, the popularity of films in which some kind of otherworldly presence appears, in the flesh, able - in itself - to do physical harm. It is equally conspicuous that hardly any of these emanations are in any way good; they are almost always of evil intent.

Meanwhile, we are almost wholly ignorant of history, and so very much at threat of repeating it. What really is the wide use of antibiotics for everything viral, in humans and our pets and our feed animals, than the putting off of the inevitable, exacerbating it the longer we put it off? What really do we suppose will happen, if more and more Americans, in this ruthlessly global economy, cease to have access to the most high-tech synthetic antibiotics? And when these plagues inevitably come, is the American mind capable of resisting those who will tell us that this is the work of demons - when it is really only a function of our ignorance of physical processes? What really is the difference between the necromancer who pretends to raise the dead, and the man of God who raises the imagery of demons, as a means to control the many?

There may be demons, somewhere. But they have no power, here on Earth in this Universe, but what we do, perceiving them..

Poor Osmond. So able to see that the "killing of witches serves men more than God," yet unable to see how deeply ingrained in him, the ideas of those who claim to speak for God. He sees his lover not in the flesh but through the prism of his training, and so believes her to be dead, her body inhabited by something unnatural. Having been drugged, she may well have been between worlds, or dimensions - but not in any way he could imagine. And in his naiveté, believing himself good, he does something awful, and a crack appears in his psyche, allowing 'demons' in. Thereafter acting in every way demonic, in the name of God, with the full sanction of the men of control and domination.

What is astounding to me, is that even today, knowing what we know about the Church and its persecution of women, that these villagers cannot be said to be of the Goddess, but only without God. If you go to the web site for the movie, you will find descriptions of the male characters who are in service to God, but not a single word about Langiva, or even Hob, the powerful man in service to her. Reading the website, you might think a woman does not appear in the movie at all, as if this were some sort of buddy film. Similarly, reading about the bubonic plaque on-line, you will find very little mention of any burning of witches.

I recognize Ulric and his band of mercenaries. I see their humanity, despite their butchery. I see the stories they use to order their lives. If there can be said to be anything like reincarnation, I suspect I was part of such a rabble, in some former life. But in this one, I am an Anarchist in service to the Goddess, which is to say, I am not in service and will not serve any tyrant, man or woman, pretending to act under the auspices of God or Goddess or no-god, who seeks to fill peoples heads with ideas as a means to control them, and hold oneself above. And on the whole, if it should come to pass that we repeat the story of the Black Death here in America, as it seems to me we very well could, then you will find me protecting women and children and the Earth from predation, by the men and women of God; speaking and writing about the ideas that enslave us, speaking and writing of my life in service to the Goddess, if for no other reason than hardly anyone will, and there is no balance one without the other.

Though that said, after more than three years in service to the Goddess, I cannot in good conscience recommend it to anyone. I have only gone there I believe, because the world is out of balance, and as far as I know, no one else has ever claimed to be an anarchist in service to the Goddess, explicitly. Undiscovered territory, so-to-speak, and I go there to see what might be found. I can say it has been lucrative, insofar as a means of ordering the Self. But I have found very little comfort in that service - nor can I say that I am not mistaken. I am my only evidence. And honestly, I don't much care anymore if anyone else believes as I believe.

*What a load of BS, I thought, as I read this later. How much time do I spend meandering through the Internet each day? Hours. One more reason not to take me too seriously.


Luciddreams said...

I wondered about your "in service to the goddess" bit. I wasn't sure if it was a specific Goddess or just Yin or what. So it's just an arbitrary thing that you service? Just because? I'm not being contrary or denigrating your Goddess, just wanting to understand. Have you blogged about it before?

Tim Gockel said...

Hi WDH, from Chicago suburbs, love your writings. You are an inspiration to us on the verge of awakening. Tim Gockel

William Hunter Duncan said...


I'm not sure if I have blogged about it before, but I can say this: One day, randomly, in a good place in my life but questioning my path, I stood in my house, opening myself up in a pose of service, and offered myself up to the Goddess, without knowing really how I got there, or knowing what it would mean. A few weeks later, I met an extraordinary woman who changed my life radically. I am no longer with that woman, but I am grateful. I remain in service to the Goddess, though I do not imagine any, I have never been visited by one in any dream, and I do not really know why, except to say that calling out my service every day has opened me up emotionally, it focuses my attention on the way our culture in the absence of the divine feminine has turned control and domination and brutality into virtues, and it has strangely helped me ground my presence, making me more powerful, easy, and calm. So, if I think of the Goddess at all, I just think of the Earth.


William Hunter Duncan said...


Thank you. And you might try reading it again, as I have spent some time editing it late into the night, a new version, a little easier to read I think.



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