Wednesday, 3 May 2017

I am the Old Pagan in early May and the long shadow of Fascism

I am the Old Pagan in early May

I am the Old Pagan at the beginning of May. It is but a day to the Local Council elections and just over five weeks to the general election Elections. We stand on the brink of a Wales dominated by fear, the loathing of the other. The victimisation of the weak and vulnerable. I am angry Ecosocialism burns within me. The real test for all Radical and Left wing parties is how we balance the rising stars of our parties with the role of activist.
This time of year is a time we must look within and recognise our strengths and weaknesses. We must understand that we need confident people to speak for us to be candidates and key activists. We must understand how to help the quieter ones become who they truly are. Yet we must have an inner awareness, a clarity to understand that dominance is a dangerous thing. We must be able to understand how to spot problems before they arise, to be aware of destructive tendencies within us all. We must also be aware that you cannot be tolerant of sexists, racists and homophobes. It was the Trade Unionists the community activists and the Socialists who were the backbone of resistance to Fascism. We cannot offer a flower to the unreasonable and the totalitarians whether we find it in UKIP or indeed within ourselves. There are too many nice people who want nice solutions to many unpleasant situations. A gentle discussion with a storm trooper does not solve the problem. It's preparation and pointing out the truth and protection that works.
Wales needs a strong Ecosocialist party now. I felt like a prophet crying the wilderness but now in 2017 there are others with me in the wilderness crying the same.There can be no tolerance of racism, xenophobia or prejudice. It is not free speech when we tolerate these vile ideas it is collaboration.
In1995, Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco listed 14 features of what he called Ur-Fascism or Eternal Fascism. He began the list with this caveat:
These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.
1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”
8. The humiliation by the wealth and force of their enemies. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”
It difficult to look at Eco’s list and not see parallels between it and the incoming Trump administration.
We must resist. Disagree. Be modern. Improve knowledge. Welcome outsiders. Protect the weak. Reject xenophobia. Welcome difference. At the end of his piece, Eco quotes Franklin Roosevelt saying during a radio address on the “need for continuous progressive government”:
I venture the challenging statement that if democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.
And Eco himself adds: “Freedom and liberation are an unending task.”
And it is here in Wales, on Social media all around us. Look and see
Wales has a wealth of May Day customs, superstitions and traditions that go back to the time of the Druids.
Known as Calan Mai or Calan Haf, the first day of May was an important time for celebration and festivities in Wales as it was considered to be the start of summer. Marking neither an equinox nor a solstice, May Day referred to the point in the year when herds would be turned out to pasture.
The lighting of fires were very much associated with the first of May. In Druidical days, fires for the Baltan, known also as Beltane, represented an opportunity for purification, to protect animals from disease. These fire-lighting ceremonies were carried out with a great deal of pomp and ceremony.
Mary Trevelyan, in her 1909 book Folk-lore And Folk-stories Of Wales, describes the preparations for the fire on May Eve in south Wales that took place right up until the mid 19th century:
"The fire was done in this way: Nine men would turn their pockets inside out, and see that every piece of money and all metals were off their persons. Then the men went into the nearest woods and collected sticks of nine different kinds of trees.
"These were carried to the spot where the fire had to be built. There a circle was cut in the sod and the sticks were set crosswise. All around the circle the people stood and watched the proceedings. One of the men would then take two bits of oak and rub them together until a flame was kindled."
According to Trevelyan, it was not unknown for a calf to be thrown on to a fire, proffered to stop prevent spreading within a particular herd. Sheep were also given to the summer fire in an attempt to halt was a disease was that prevalent within a particular flock.
May Eve was not just an opportunity for a healthy herd; it was a chance for divination, usually with the express intent of revealing who one's true love would be.
'Spirit nights', or ysprydnos, took place on May Eve. It was one of the three nights in the year when the world of the supernatural was closest to the the real world. These nights offered an opportunity for divination, usually with the express intent of revealing who one's true love would be.
Also on May Eve, villagers would gather hawthorn branches and flowers and use these to decorate the outside of their houses. It was believed to be unlucky to bring hawthorn blossoms into the house. In some parts of Wales mayflower (probably the cowslip) was collected. These customs celebrated the new growth and fertility of the season.
It is clear that May Day offered a chance for socialising and mirth. After hard, often isolating, winters this was a chance for socialising and celebrating.
In Anglesey and Caernarfonshire 'gware gwr gwyllt' - playing straw man - or 'crogi gwr gwellt' - hanging a straw man - were a common sight on May Eve.
A man who had lost his sweetheart to another man would make a figure out of straw and put it somewhere in the vicinity of where the girl lived. The straw man represented her new sweetheart and had a note pinned to it. However, such attention to a lady could foster jealousy, sometimes leading to fights.
Singing and dancing were an integral part of the celebrations with some of the songs sometimes being rather bawdy or sexual.
The maypole was an important part of Welsh May Day tradition. It was called 'codi'r fedwen', 'raising the birch', in south Wales, and 'y gangen haf', the summer branch, in the north.
In the south, the maypole was made of birch. It was painted different colours and the leader of the dancing would wrap his ribbons around the pole, followed by the other dancers until eventually the pole was covered in ribbons. The maypole would then be raised and the dancing would begin.
In north Wales 'cangen haf' took place. Up to 20 young men would go May dancing. All of the men would be dressed in white and decorated with ribbons,except for two who were were called the Fool and Cadi.
The Cadi would carry the 'cangen haf' which was often decorated with silver watches, spoons, and vessels borrowed from the people in the village. Singing and dancing, they would visit each house in the village asking for money.

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