By Ineke Strouken en Olivier Rieter
Irina brought this book from the library; it’s a publication by the Nederlands Centrum voor Volkscultuur, the Dutch Centre for Folk Culture. The various papers in the book investigate the difference between popular perception of traditions and the real history of traditions.
This fits in nicely, of course, with The Invention of Tradition. Topics ranging from law scholars trying to rediscover (and accidentally inventing) Germanic law because it’s more ancient and better suited to the Dutch national character, to a thorough dissection of the modern myth that Christian holidays, places of worship and customs must necessarily be derived from Germanic pagan dittos are discussed in a dry, scholarly manner. These people cannot write like a Hobsbawm…
But still, did you know that there were actually no Germanic pagan temples anywhere? That probably only one holy oak was felled by Willibrord, in what’s Germany today and that it was dedicated to a Roman god, not to a German deity? That traditions about “fever trees” (bind a piece of clothing to a certain tree and the fever will be gone) are really recent, in many cases dating back to the twentieth century, and that some traditions about the apostle of the Low Countries were consciously invented by a priest in Het Gooi near the end of the nineteenth century?
I didn’t: I knew that the Batavs invading the Low Countries by drifting down the Rhine on logs was a myth, and suspected some other things. But the stuff you get fed in primary schools, in popular literature, in comics, will mean that the great majority of people will have a worldview fixed in their minds that was originally invented by C19 nationalists (in some case proto-nazis) and still think they are modern, enlightened people who know better than their forebears. I hope there will be a time when scholarship will take less than a century to trickle down to the popular consciousness, but I’m not optimistic.
(And yes, everything you read in your newspaper in the running up to Christmas about Germanic origins for Christmas is wrong. There is no evidence, not even circumstantial, no indication, no hint even that there was a Germanic “light festival” in actual sources. There are no indications of a pagan spring festival, either in any primary sources. And there are no discernable pagan customs left even in popular devotional practice.)