MEDIEVAL LIFE & TIMES
"War in Heaven"
France, c. 1320
in The Cloisters Collection, New York City
Medieval "Life & Times" were full of celebrations, and this page will reflect that robust pleasure in life. But the Middle Ages were also very dark times. Since the 9th century, when "the world, the flesh and the Devil" were first linked as a negative principle, their often violent denigration has played a major role in Western thought. This dramatic good/evil, heaven/earth, spirit/body split has caused enormous damage to humans, all other species, and the global environment itself.
In the opening painting, notice the site of each wound: a spear is thrust straight down each dragon's throat -- the efficient, machine-like "angels" are deliberately destroying the throat chakras so that these voices may never be heard. Each dragon's head is lifted as if to speak, each seems to be straining to be heard -- and in that most vulnerable moment, each one is swiftly silenced.
In medieval times, one definition of "evil" was privatio boni, the absence, or privation, of good. Today, as Riane Eisler writes,...on the human level a far more useful way of looking at evil is as the absence of those qualities that make us uniquely human: our enormous capacity for consciousness, choice, and most important, empathy and love" (Sacred Pleasure, p.382).From this perspective, in the intolerance, fear, and rage that drive us to dehumanize ("demonize") others, we become less human ourselves. We become "evil," self-righteously projecting our own inner shadows onto others as our excuse for destroying them.
The medieval theme of the war in heaven that led to Lucifer's fall shows us graphically how the process works. In this painting, one side is viewed as totally good, fair-haired, white-skinned, and attractively garbed in pastels. The other side is viewed as totally bad, loathsome, slimy, scaly, and portrayed in the dark colors of mud and rotting vegetation. Interestingly, however, the same greens and browns used to depict the demons also vibrate in the wings of the angels, as if to whisper that even the artist knew unconsciously that any apparent difference between them was an illusion, for both wings and scales come from the same root, an earthy, verdant, fertile root.
Medieval times can be seen as the childhood of Western culture, filled with dark nightmares, but also with magic. With this in mind, I hope you'll explore many of the delights, but also some of the shadows.
First, the delights......
This is "Luminarium's" Anthology of Middle English Literature (1350-1485), edited by Anniina Jokinen, for whom this work is an obvious labor of love. The site is absolutely exquisite, from its content to its form (including its medieval music). It includes sections on Chaucer, Sir Gawain (double-listed at my Arthurian Themes site), William Langland, Lady Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Thomas Malory, Everyman, Medieval Plays, and Medieval Lyrics. These sections include texts, essays and articles (some by professionals, others by gifted students), and rich, additional sources. When I e-mailed her for information on herself, she sent back a URL for her "Letter from the Editor," a beautifully written explanation of her multimedia approach in merging scholarship with beauty. Since her views are so resonant with my own, and are expressed so eloquently, I'm including that URL here as well: http://www.luminarium.org/letter.htmhttp://www.godecookery.com/: [Link updated 12 October 2000]
This is another obvious labor of love, James Matterer's "A Boke of Gode Cookery," a fabulous, handsomely designed site focusing on authentic medieval recipes (with adaptations for modern cooks, including beginners). As Jim writes:...Then as now, mankind knew what tasted good, and the sauces, stews, pies, roasts, and soups that satisfied the 14th c. family are just as wholesome and good today....Here you'll find over 200 recipes for festive foods; in addition, there are instructions for preparing a medieval banquet or wedding feast, history, lore, a gorgeous collection of medieval art concerning food and feasts, hundreds of links to other medieval sites (not limited to food), fine essays (e.g., Chaucer's use of food as a literary device; how medieval cooks categorized food by using the Four Humours philosophy), and much more.
Jim is a warm, thoroughly engaging, generous host. Don't miss his site, even if you, like I, limit your cullinary skills to heating up a can of organic soup! Jim's recipes for chestnut soup and carrot pudding especially appeal to me and even if I never make them, just reading about them is a treat. (Note: this site is double-listed on my COMMON THEMES: Food & Drink: Sacrality & Lore page.)
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Classical TraditionsAncient Greece ////// Ancient RomeCeltic Traditions /
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Medieval Life & Times / Arthurian Themes / Grail Lore/
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This page created with Netscape Gold
Technical assistance: William Weeks
Text and Design:
Copyright 1998-2000 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
13 December 1998 (+ Jim Matterer's site name change 1/27/99);
12 October 2000
10 March 2011: tweeked opening globe image & deleted old e-mail address.
No time to change or update anything else.