Saturday, December 24, 2011

6 A Latvian Latvia? By Way of Mime or Alterity?

When Made Jurjane met Antons Benjamins (henceforth AB), he had just arrived in Ergli (actually it was Vecogre) from his first year as a teacher in Rujiena (about 1881). As AB was also a choir leader, and Made had a nice voice and musical relatives, she joined the choir.

As people say today, AB and MJ started ‘dating’ and in the course of time married. AB moved on to a teaching post in Platere, a small village then near Ogre. In the course of time, AB became the choir director for the entire region of Vidzeme. He and Made had four children. My uncle Karlis, was he oldest son, but he died years before I was born. My father, Janis, was second in line, followed by two sisters, Anna and Marta.

The trouble that was lurking for my grandmother was a kind of hidden bacillus infecting the social arena of the time. As I pointed out in a previous blog, I think of this bacillus as a wealth virus, a kind of a flue of the time.

The infection arrived with the Herrnhuters in the years that followed the Great Northern War, which ended in 1711. The first Herrnhuter (in English this may be translated as Top Hat) arrived in Latvia about 1739. My first ancestor’s name was one Andžs, from which I take my pen name of Jandžs. Andžs is known in the English language as Angus. The Irish Poet Yeats has a wonderful poem called “Song of Wandering Angus”. I cannot read it without thinking about the wandering proto-Christian preachers known among Latvians as Jahni or Johns. Such wandering preachers or Angus were common in the early centuries of the 2nd millennium also in Languedoc, now southern France. Known as Cathars, these early Johns were wiped out by the Inquisition in the latter part of the 13th and early part of 14th centuries. The Cathars were infiltrated by pseudo-Christian spies of then rising Roman Church. An account of the times and events can be read in Caterina Bruschi’s ground breaking book called “The Wandering Heretics of Languedoc.” Bruschi is a Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Birmingham.

I am not quite sure how my theory about the rise of the Roman Church sits with the academic community, but I suspect that it arose with the rise of the secular princely and landed class about a thousand years ago. Needing to repress the anarchic energies of a truly democratic forest people (in those days most of Europe was covered by forests), the landed classes coopted the proto-Christian church by persuading it to remove the Johns (Cathars, Bogomils, etc.) to a region in the skies, which these early oligarchs called their Haven, which we know today as Heaven. Along with this removal effort, the proto-Christian myths were rewritten. Thus, the Sun of the Winter Solstice, became one Jesus, while the Sun itself became the halo surrounding the baby’s head that we still see in so-called nativity scenes.

The battles between the Johns and the priests serving the oligarchs has not ended to this day. Anyone, who knows something of the history of the Christian religion, knows that the destruction of the Cathars did not end the civil war (if you will) between the various Christian sects and movements. The Herrnhuters were an outgrowth of these conflicts.

While a Reform movement, the Herrnhuters were not reformers without faults of their own. In the process of the many intra-Christian conflicts, they, too, had become infected with the oligarchal virus that came with the violent rise of the oligarchal classes. Indeed, the founder of the Herrnhuters was a German noble from around the region of Dresden, Germany. Though a prince and an oligarch, he was, at the same time, once of the rich kids with an anarchic streak in him. The German nobles kicked him out of their high society, and one of his first trips as an exile was to Valmiera, proto-Latvia. After this, he went to America, but did not have too much success as an evangelizer for his ideas.

One of Graf Zinzendorf’s revolutionary ideas was that evangelists should not be simply talking down to the  people, but should be living in their midst. After he was persuaded by the conditions about Valmiera, that his movement would be useful there, he issued a call for volunteers. The first arrived in Valmiera in 1739 . My guestimate from looking at my family tree is that Andžs arrived in proto-Latvia about 1740. Wherefrom? I do not know. My dna tests show that my paternal ancestors, my closest dna relatives, are clustered about Croatia, northern Italy, and Romania.

AB’s father, Janis Benjamins, was working as a starasts (elder, community leader, for a German baron). I am not quite clear just where, but it is not beyond the possibility that it was about the region of Taurene, where a famous (and allegedly cruel) German noble had part of his estate. In the course of time, JB became the owner of an inn, a ‘krogs’, where on Sunday’s he held Herrnhuter meetings. In those days, it was not uncommon to have inns near churches. The proto-Latvian peasants often visited these inns before going to the church and, no doubt, after getting out. One did after all have to wash all the rhetoric and advertisement out of one’s mind.

The question that remains is—just how much was the Reformed Church, the Herrnhuters, the Lutherans, the spiritually revived proto-Latvian succeed in ‘reforming’ the collaboration between secular and religious forces? If we are to judge by results—the liberal neo-capitalist world order of today—the result of the ‘Reform’ of religion has been nil and on the minus side.

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