Archive for September, 2016

“Germania,” by Karl Arnold, Simplicissimus. Vol. 37, Issue 25, September 18, 1932. p. 292.

“Nichts zum Anziehen, aber standig in Sorge um die neue Hutmode.” [Nothing to put on, but constantly worried about the new fashion.]  


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“The ritually violent behaviour of male warrior fraternities was not simply a phenomenon associated with ‘Celtic’ societies. Similar fraternities
can be identified operating within the Germanic cultures of Scandinavia
and Anglo-Saxon England.  Indeed, the archaeological evidence from
cemeteries strongly suggests that systems of age-grading existed in both
societies during the pre-Christian era. Research has revealed that the
age of twelve was an important threshold in the male individual’s life
cycle.  It is from this age group that shields and swords are found
deposited in male graves suggesting the bestowal of arms and the
beginning of the transition into man-hood.  A second threshold may
have been crossed around the age of fifteen after which the orientation
of the graves becomes more standardised, a greater number of grave
goods are deposited and grave structures and coffins become more
common.  This would appear to signal the attainment of manhood
and full warrior status. The abundance of weaponry associated with
such adolescent male graves is indicative of a society in which male
identity and violent behaviour were closely linked.

By far our richest source of evidence regarding such warrior groups
comes, once again, from the literary texts. This is especially true with
regards to the Old Norse sagas, many of which were written down in
Iceland during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, much later than the
events they describe. The sagas therefore constitute a problematic body
of sources but, like the Fenian literature, they do clearly convey the ideals,
concepts, values and taboos of their contemporary warrior audience
whilst also providing evidence concerning expected behavioural traits
and information about rituals and initiations.  Strong cultural affinities existed between Scandinavian society and the societies of medieval
Britain and there was, of course, substantial Scandinavian settlement in the British Isles. So a closer examination of this material will provide
a useful and relevant parallel.

In the mythical Saga of the Volsungs an initiate youth, named Sinfjotli,
exhibits characteristics which are strongly comparable to the Old Irish
fían warrior and the practice of díberg. Sinfjotli is said to be a youth
who is not yet of age to seek vengeance. The saga relates that he “did
not put much store in kinship” suggesting that, like the fían member,
he had distanced himself from his kindred group and removed him-
self from the blood-price compensation system. Sinfjotli also resides
in wilderness locations and, together with an older warrior named
Sigmund, pursues a life of ritualised brigandage. Like the fían, these
warriors are closely associated with wolf-like or canine characteristics
and undertake ritual transformations; donning magical wolfskins and
declaring an oath to kill and maim.  Following this declaration, Sigmundr and Sinfjotli then rampage around forest locations slaughtering
folk indiscriminately and howling like a wolves whilst enveloped in a
these canine carcasses. 

A war band referred to as the Jómsvikings also constitute a warrior
fraternity which appears to be closely analogous to those evident in the
societies of medieval Ireland and Wales. The Jómsvikings feature in a
number of sagas dating from the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, including Oláf Saga Tryggvasonar, Fagrskinna Saga, Snorri Sturlusson’s’s
Heimskringla and the eponymously titled Saga of the Jómsvikings. The
Jómsviking element in these sagas appear to have been based upon ear-
lier skaldic oral traditions regarding a war band involved in a struggle
between the Norwegian earl Hákon Sigurðson and Danish forces in
the late 10th Century. The Saga of the Jómsvikings portrays an exclusive
warrior fraternity based in the marginal location of an island fortress.

This microcosmic warrior society had its own hierarchy, rules and codes of behaviour described in the following manner:

…no one might join the company who was over fifty or under eighteen.
All members were to be between these ages. Kinship must not weigh when
considering for membership a man who wished to join. No member was
to flee from any man who was his equal in bravery and as well armed
as himself. Each member must avenge any other member as though
he were his brother. No one was to utter words of fear or be afraid of
anything, however hopeless matters looked. All the booty brought in
from their expeditions was to be carried to the standard- of whatever
value, big or small- and anyone not abiding by this rule must leave the
company…No one was to have a woman in the fort, and no one was to
be away for more than three days. And if it became known after a man
had been admitted into the company that he had earlier slain the father
or brother or some other near kinsman of another member, Palnatóki
was to be the judge…

This extract exhibits a number of, by now, familiar characteristics
associated with the medieval warrior fraternity; the Jómsvikings were
thought to be an exclusive all-male group who placed a high value on
prowess and violence; the fraternity was regulated through age grades,
personal qualities and initiation rituals; it was seperated from blood
price compensation systems and kindred groups but, with substituted
bonds of fictive kinship; it was relatively egalitarian in ethos but nonetheless structured with an internal hierarchy and with a clear leader
in the character Palnatóki.

The Saga of the Jómsvikings provides an exaggerated literary construction of a relatively common social phenomenon. Indeed, the powerful
significance and prolific nature of comparable fraternal warrior groups
in the medieval Germanic societies has been widely acknowledged. The well documented Berserkr characterised in Old Norse sagas as violent
youthful warriors who assume ursine or canine qualities, provides further flesh to these bones. Berserkrs generally occur in pairs or groups of twelve;
when in groups they usually constitute either a band of outlaws or an
elite band of warriors. The etymology of the term berserkr is disputed.
It may derive from bare-sark or ‘bare-shirt’ referring to the berserkr’s habit
of going ‘naked’, or rather, unarmored into battle. Snorri Sturlusson
records this tradition in Ynglinga Saga relating that these warriors (whom
Snorri associated with the pagan god Oðin) 

…went without mailcoats, and were frantic as dogs or wolves; they
bit their shields and were strong as bears or boars; they slew men, but
neither fire nor iron could hurt them. This is known as ‘going berserk’

Others have contended that the term should be read bear-sark or
‘bear-shirt’ describing some form of animal-skin dress, mask or hair
style. This is clearly in keeping with Sinjotli and Sigmund’s donning
of magical wolf skins in the Saga of the Volsungs. The earliest recorded
use of the term berserkr occurs in the skaldic verse Haraldskvædi, a praise
work to the late ninth century Norwegian king Harald Finehair. This
described these warriors as “wolf-skins” (úlfheðnar) a term which also
appears in a number of later sagas including Grettirs Saga and Vatnsdæla
. This label is clearly suggestive of acquired magical shape shifting
qualities; with berserkr warriors being perceived as marginal figures who
blurred the boundaries between the human and animal worlds. Like
the Irish hero Chú Chulainn, the berserkr, too, was thought to actually
swell and change into bestial form, or at least to assume the ferocious
qualities of the wolf or bear. Kveldulf in Egils Saga was spoken of as
such a shapechanger, and Hrólf’s Saga Kraka tells of the hero, Bjarki, who assumed the shape of a bear in battle. These animal-like states
are also associated with the violent frenzy mentioned by Snorri in the
extract from Ynglinga Saga, above, and known as berserksgangr.

This frenzied state imbued the berserkr warrior with a magical immunity to weapons. Some berserkrs were thought to be inherently possessed
of this immunity while others performed rituals to induce it. This perceived immunity to weapons may also have been connected with the
animal-skin garments worn by the berserkr and associated with shape
shifting capabilities. Berserksgangr might have been induced through
the consumption of drugs such as the hallucinogenic mushrooms or
alcohol; practices which correlate generally with ritual usages. The
condition has been analysed by the psychologist Howard Fabing who
wrote a fascinating neurological enquiry into the phenomenon during
the 1950’s. In light of Thomas Jones’s chosen translation of the Middle
Welsh term ynfydyon, above, it is extremely interesting that, similarly,
Fabing associated the frenzied state of the Scandinavian warrior with

This condition is said to have begun with shivering, chattering of the
teeth, and chill in the body, and then the face swelled and changed its
color. With this was connected a great hot-headedness, which at last gave
over into a great rage, under which they howled as wild animals, bit the
edge of their shields, and cut down everything they met without discriminating between friend or foe. When this condition ceased, a great
dulling of the mind and feeble-ness followed, which could last for one
or several days.

Unsurprisingly, given their capability for such unpredictable behaviour, attitudes towards berserkr warriors appear to have been somewhat
ambivalent. Indeed, the berserkr’s place in society was limited by the
terror and violence that was associated with berserksgangr. As superb
warriors, they were due admiration; like the fían, berserkrs were employed as a kind of militia or mercenary force by powerful men. A key role
of the berserkr seems to have been as as a warrior attached to a king’s
retinue or bodyguard. Furthermore, a number of rulers are said to
have employed berserkr shock-troops at the front of their battle ranks;
a tactic clearly intended to terrify opposing forces. Outside of these
honourable roles, however, the berserkr became the stock villain of the
sagas, typified as murderous brutes. … berserkr warriors were also closely associated with uncontrollable sexual
violence and the abduction and rape of individuals, particularly
women.  Saxo Grammaticus, a Danish cleric writing during the first
decade of the thirteenth century, raised the following complaints concerning such warrior forebears: 

So outrageous and unrestrained were their ways that they ravished other
men’s wives and daughters; they seemed to have outlawed chastity and
driven it to a brothel…Husbands were tormented with fear, their wives
by the sport made of their bodies. Outrage was submitted to; respect
for matrimony disappeared and sex combined with violence became the
norm …

Later, in the same volume Saxo makes a further association between
the virilisation of youths and violent behaviour lamenting that the
young Danish warriors 

…would harry and pillage the neighborhood, and frequently spilt great
quantities of blood. They considered it manly and proper to devastate
homes, cut down cattle, rifle everything and take away vast hauls of booty, burn to the ground houses they had sacked, and butcher men and
women indiscriminately.

Another clerical commentator from the region, Adam of Bremen who
was writing in the 1070’s, somewhat closer to the events he described,
noted that such activities were characterised by indiscriminate slave-taking raids. Adam commented how these Viking warriors 

… pay tribute to the Danish king for leave to plunder the barbarians who
live about the sea in great numbers. Hence it also happens that the license
granted them with respect of enemies is frequently misused against their
own people. So true is this that they have no faith in one another, and as
soon as one of them catches another, he mercilessly sells him into slavery
either to one of his fellows or to a barbarian.

Although the berserkrs appear mainly in the saga materials, the twelfth-
century Icelandic law tract Grágás includes several provisions which
suggest that such warriors existed and that they created real problems
for the community. Under a section of the laws dealing with treatment
of homicide there are several provisions regarding the penalties for
raiding in Iceland. These refer to bands of men residing in “islands
or caves or fortified places or ships” who “take peoples property from
them against their will or beat or bind or wound people if they have
the power.” Grágás relates that such men might be slain with relative impunity whilst they were raiding and were clearly excluded from
kindred networks of compensation. Nonetheless it is made clear such
raiders could be summoned to a legal assembly and that they might  collude with individuals who remained within the community. Furthermore, a specific provision exists within Grágás regarding bereserksgangr,
it appears under a sub-section dealing with punishments for residual
pagan activities such as the worship heathen beings, and the use of
witchcraft and sorcery and states that

If a man falls into a berserk frenzy, the penalty is lesser outlawry, and
the same penalty applies to the men who are present unless they restrain
him—then they are liable to no penalty if they succeed in restraining him.
But if it happens again, the penalty is lesser outlawry.

Lesser outlawry ( fjorbaugsgarðr) was a sentence of three years’ banishment from the country, further suggesting that berserkr warriors and
their companions, like Icelandic raiders and indeed the Irish fían, might
be exiled and legally removed from their kin group and community.
Moreover, berserksgangr like the practice of díberg was clearly associated
with pagan and magical practices which were deemed unacceptable (but
were nonetheless still practised by certain elements) within Christianised
Icelandic society. Berserkr warriors therefore clearly display a number of
traits that are closely comparable to those of their ‘Celtic’ counterparts;
i.e. placing a high value on prowess and strength; indiscriminate violence, plunder, abduction and rape; semi-nakedness and/or distinctive
dress or adornments; an association with marginal locations and the
natural world; canine/ursine symbolism and ritualistic pre-Christian

– David Wyatt, Slaves and Warriors in Medieval Britain and Ireland, 800 -1200 (The Northern World). Brill: Leiden & Boston, 2009. pp. 94-101.

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“Meaford Anglers Give The Fish Warning of the Derby to come Sept. 30 and Oct. 1,” Toronto Star, September 18, 1938. Page 18.

There are 30-Pounders Running Off Meaford, They Say. The wind was running high when the Meaford chamber of commerce have a preview of its fishing derby.  Although they talked of catching a lake trout weighting 30 pounds, none that size appeared at the week-end. Patricia Dillon, Louise Booker and Lorraine Solomon (left to right, top centre) were on hand to show samples of the fishing.  Doris Eagles and Margaret Durant (bottom left) and Blanche Crowell (bottom right) tried their luck against the weather.  The fishing derby is Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.”

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“Sieg der Republik – in Spanien,” by Thomas Theodor Heine, Simplicissimus. Volume 37, Issue 25, September 18, 1932.

Simplicissimus celebrates the defeat of monarchist and militarist attempts to destroy the Spanish republic – clearly drawing an analogy to the crisis in Germany.

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La Patrie, September 18, 1938. Page 01.

“Il est notoire que l’huitre déteste le bruit. Saviez-vous cependant que, courroucée contre celui qui l’ennuie, elle se venge en fabriquant au profit de son bourreay une petite fortune? C’est rendre le bien pour le mail! Mademoiselle Sally MacFarlane exhibe, ici, une merveilleuse rivière de perles de culture, produits de l’irritation de quelques huitres!”

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September 17, 2016: a new episode of The Anatomy Lesson at 11pm EST on CFRC 101.9 FM ( cfrcradio). Storm noises. Music new and classic by: composer (and occasional electro-acoustic musician) Ann Southam, Af Ursin, Futuro Antico, Canadian improvisional jazz group Fat, Rob Mazurek & Emmett Kelly, RBC, and 5599 (collaboration between Jean-Marc Foussat and Augustin Brousseloux). Check out the whole setlist below, tune in at 101.9 on your FM dial, stream at http://audio.cfrc.ca:8000/listen.pls or download the finished show at cfrc.ca.

Rob Mazurek & Emmett Kelly – “Back to the Ocean, Back to the Sea” Alien Flower Sutra
Ann Southam – “Fluke Sound” Seastill: The Electronic Music of Ann Southam (1989/1998)
RBC – “Rêve 1” Reality Beyond Consciousness
5599 – “Le Bruit des Tempetes” Heureusement Que Le Sang Sèche Vite
Af Ursin – “Aphanes” Aura Legato (2005/2016)
Futuro Antico – “Shirak” Futuro Antico (1980/2014)
Fat – “ESP” Plays For You (1988)

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La Patrie, Journal Du Dimanche. September 11, 1938. Front page.

“It’s the start of school! The vacations were nice, the days of sun – numerous.  Outside sports reinforced you.  Students, its the time for work.  You’re not as unhappy as you let on to return to your professors, your companions, your studies.  Good luck!”

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