19 Sep 2022

“Last Post for Christian England”

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Paul Kingsnorth wrote a very intelligent post reflecting on the symbolism and significance of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.

What happened today was a rolling, dense mat of symbolism, replete with historical meaning, anchored in a very particular nation and time period. What did it symbolise? Above all, I think, it symbolised something that our culture has long stopped believing in, and as such can’t really process effectively, or even perhaps quite comprehend. This was brought home to me by one particular moment in the ceremony.

You can see that moment in the photograph above. It’s a view from the height of the tower of Westminster Abbey, looking down onto the Queen’s coffin below. The Abbey is, of course, laid out in the shape of the cross, and the coffin was set down at the meeting point of the nave and the transept, where the two arms of the cross meet. At one point in the proceedings, the camera showed us this view, and then focused in on the scene, and the impression was that of some energy flowing down from above and into the coffin, then out across the marble floor and into the gathered crowd.

It struck me then that this was an accurate visual image of the world which this Queen’s death marks the final end of, and it struck me too that this must be one of the reasons why her passing has had such a huge impact – one way beyond the person she actually was. What we were seeing as the camera panned down was a manifestation, through technological trickery, of the ancient notion of sacral kingship.

This notion was the rock which the political structure of all medieval societies was built, and in theory at least it is still the architecture which supports the matter of Britain, whose bishops still sit in parliament with the power to amend laws, and whose monarch’s crown is adorned with a cross. Authority, in this model of society, flows downward, from God, and into the monarch, who then faces outward with that given power and serves – and rules – his or her people.

Forget for a moment whether you’re a Christian, or a monarchist, or indeed whether you just think this is so much humbug designed to disguise the raw exercise of power. I’m not trying to make a case here: I am trying to understand something that I think at least partly explains how we have got here.

The point of the model of sacral kingship is that all true power resides in and emerges from the great, mysterious, unknowable, creative power at the heart of the universe – the power which we call, for want of a better word, ‘God.’ Any power that the monarch may exercise in this temporal realm is not ultimately his or hers. At the end of the funeral today, the orb and the sceptre, symbolising the Queen’s spiritual and temporal authority, were removed from the top of her coffin, along with the crown, and given over to the care of the church. At that point, Elizabeth became symbolically what she had always been in reality, and we all are – small, ordinary people, naked before God.

This notion – that any power exercised by a human ruler ultimately derives from the spiritual plane – is neither British nor European. It is universal. Pharaonic Egypt recognised it, and so did Native America. The Anglo-Saxons believed it and so did the Japanese Emperors. Cultures large and small, imperial and tribal, on all continents over many millennia, have shared some version of this understanding of what the world is. Power, it tells us – politics, it insists – is no mere human confection, because the world is no mere human confection. There is something – someone – else beyond it, and if we are silent, in these cathedrals or in these forests, we can hear it still. Those who take power in this world will answer to it at the end. It is best that they know this now.

What is meaningful about this royal death is that the late Queen really believed this. So, I think, does her son, the new King. But the society around him very much does not. The understanding now is that authority flows upward from below, from ‘the people’ and into the government, which supposedly governs on our behalf. In this model there is no sacred centre, and there is no higher authority to whom we answer. There is no heavenly grant of temporary office which will one day be returned, and a tally made. There is only raw power, rooted in materiality, which in itself has no meaning beyond what we ascribe to it. There is only efficiency. There is only management. There are only humans.

RTWT

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3 Feedbacks on "“Last Post for Christian England”"

OneGuy

What he is saying is that there will either be war or genocide. The choice is ours, we can choose to fight or wait until they are powerful enough to just kill us all. The third choice was to remove them all from Western countries but that is no longer a viable choice unless we go to war to do it.



JKB

Unless you know history, and are aware that consecration was just a political move by Offa of Mercia to reinforce the claim of his son to succession. Offa had killed as many possible claimants, but, Ceolred, I believe, had been quite prolific with the daughters of Mercian nobility residing in monasteries/convents (different time) and the mother’s lineage mattered in Mercian claims to rule.

“The ceremony itself is noteworthy for two reasons: it is the first recorded consecration of any English king, and it is unusual in that it asserted Ecgfrith’s royal status while his father was still alive.”

A tradition born, but for naught as Ecgfrith died 141 days into his rule. The Church liked consecration as it gave them a hook to being treated well and an independent source of influence on power.



gwbnyc

“The understanding now is that authority flows upward from below, from ‘the people’ and into the government, which supposedly governs on our behalf.”

…the me’s and you’s are well on our way to not participating at all.



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