Category Archives: Middle Ages

Slavery in the Muslim World: The Tradition Is Not Yet Dead

From here.

Bottom line is, yes, slavery has been present in the Islamic World from Day One. In fact, one can make a case that slavery was an inherent and even emblematic aspect of Islam since its inception. It only left the Muslim World due to pressure from the West when the West emancipated its own slaves in the late 1800’s. Officially, most of the Muslim World dumped theirs. Yet the practice continued. Saudi Arabia only outlawed slavery in 1962. An advertisement for a castrated Black slave for sale recently appeared in a Saudi publication. Mauritania only outlawed slavery a few years ago, and the ban is hardly enforced.

As societies collapsed, the peculiar institution experienced a recrudescence. Libyan ports now export many slaves destined for Europe. Syrian teenage girls in Jordanian refugee camps are trafficked to brothels in Amman and sold to visiting Gulf men for $140-175 for a “temporary marriage.” In Northern Nigeria, even before Boko Haram kidnapped scores of teenage Christian girls, Muslim men had been importing concubine slave girls from the north to serve as “fifth wives.” The abuse and rape of female domestics in the Gulf who are little more than slaves of their owners has been documented for years.

Worst of all is the migrant labor scam that the Gulf states have been running for decades involving workers from South Asia, especially Pakistan and India,  and Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines. For all intents and purposes, work which is tied to contracts with the employer is little more than slavery, let’s face it. Gulf employers of these men have referred to them as slaves. They are housed in the most miserable conditions in a very wealthy country and worked to exhaustion and sometimes to death in ferocious heat with little protection or rest. A number of deaths have occurred to poor working conditions. Some poor countries to the east have forbidden their workers from going to the Gulf to work. There has been a bit of a crackdown, but it was mostly fake. Kuwait gave its “slaves” rights recently, but the Emir has not yet signed the bill. Qatar is worried about its reputation as the Olympics are coming soon, but its response instead of cleaning up its act has been to cover the whole mess up and beat up and detain the protesters. Any progress elsewhere in the Gulf has been frozen in recent years. Instead we get the predictable fake backlash whereby the Gulf states say that critics of their Slave System are “Islamophobes.”

The progress for serious progressive change for alleviating remaining vestiges of slavery in the Arab World seem dim at the moment as the region undergoes a retrenchment, a backlash and a hardening of reaction.

The link between Islam and slavery goes back from the start, so ISIS is not doing anything new. The fact that the formal Muslim states of the world continue to refuse to clean up their mess is most discouraging, but it too may be blamed on tradition.

“Spoils of war,” snaps Dabiq, the English-language journal of Islamic State (IS). The reference is to thousands of Yazidi women the group forced into sex slavery after taking their mountain, Sinjar, in August last year. Far from being a perversion, it claims that forced concubinage is a religious practice sanctified by the Koran.

In a chapter called Women, the Koran sanctions the marriage of up to four wives, or “those that your right hands possess”. Literalists, like those behind the Dabiq article, have interpreted these words as meaning “captured in battle”.

Its purported female author, Umm Sumayyah, celebrated the revival of Islam’s slave-markets and even proffered the hope that Michelle Obama, the wife of America’s president, might soon be sold there. “I and those with me at home prostrated to Allah in gratitude on the day the first slave-girl entered our home,” she wrote. Sympathizers have done the same, most notably the allied Nigerian militant group, Boko Haram, which last year kidnapped an entire girls’ school in Chibok.

Religious preachers have responded with a chorus of protests. “The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus,” declared an open letter sent by 140 Muslim scholars to IS’s “caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, earlier this year. “You have taken women as concubines and thus revived…corruption and lewdness on the earth.”

But while IS’s embrace of outright slavery has been singled out for censure, religious and political leaders have been more circumspect about other “slave-like” conditions prevalent across the region. IS’s targeting of an entire sect for kidnapping, killing and sex trafficking, and its bragging, are exceptional; forced labor for sexual and other forms of exploitation is not.

From Morocco, where thousands of children work as petites bonnes, or maids, to the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan where girls are forced into prostitution, to the unsanctioned rape and abuse of domestics in the Gulf, aid workers say servitude is rife.

Scholars are sharply divided over how much cultural mores are to blame. Apologists say that, in a concession to the age, the Prophet Muhammad tolerated slavery, but—according to a prominent American theologian trained in Salafi seminaries, Yasir Qadhi—he did so grudgingly and advocated abolition.

Repeatedly in the Koran the Prophet calls for the manumission of slaves and release of captives, seeking to alleviate the slave systems run by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Jewish Himyarite kings of Yemen. He freed one slave, a chief’s daughter, by marrying her, and chose Bilal, another slave he had freed, to recite the first call to prayer after his conquest of Mecca. His message was liberation from worldly oppression, says Mr Qadhi  – enslavement to God, not man.

Other scholars insist, however, that IS’s treatment of Yazidis adheres to Islamic tradition. “They are in full compliance with Koranic understanding in its early stages,” says Professor Ehud Toledano, a leading authority on Islamic slavery at Tel Aviv University. Moreover, “what the Prophet has permitted, Muslims cannot forbid.”

The Prophet’s calls to release slaves only spurred a search for fresh stock as the new empire spread, driven by commerce, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Persian Gulf.

To quash a black revolt in the salt mines of southern Iraq, the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad conscripted Turkish slaves into their army. Within a few generations these formed a power base, and from 1250 to 1517 an entire slave caste, the Mamluks (Arabic for “chattel”), ruled Egypt.

A path to power

Their successors, the Ottoman Turks, perfected the system. After conquering south-eastern Europe in the late 14th century, they imposed the devshirme, or tribute, enslaving the children of the rural poor, on the basis that they were more pagan than Christian, and therefore not subject to the protections Islam gave to People of the Book. Far from resisting this, many parents were happy to deliver their offspring into the white slave elite that ran the empire.

Under this system, enslaved boys climbed the ranks of the army and civil service. Girls entered the harem as concubines to bear sultans. All anticipated, and often earned, power and wealth. Unlike the feudal system of Christian Europe, this one was meritocratic and generated a diverse gene pool. Mehmet II, perhaps the greatest of the Ottoman sultans, who ruled in the 15th century, had the fair skin of his mother, a slave girl from the empire’s north-western reaches.

All this ended because of abolition in the West. After severing the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century, Western abolitionists turned on the Islamic world’s, and within decades had brought down a system that had administered not just the Ottoman empire but the Sherifian empire of Morocco, the Sultanate of Oman with its colonies on the Swahili-speaking coast and West Africa’s Sokoto Caliphate.

With Western encouragement, Serb and Greek rebels sloughed off devshirme. Fearful of French ambitions, the mufti of Tunis wooed the British by closing his slave-markets in 1846. A few years later, the sultan in Istanbul followed suit.

Some tried to resist, including Morocco’s sultan and the cotton merchants of Egypt, who had imported African slaves to make up the shortages left by the ravages of America’s civil war. But colonial pressure proved unstoppable. Under Britain’s consul-general, Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer, Egypt’s legislative assembly dutifully abolished slavery at the end of the 19th century. The Ottoman register for 1906 still lists 194 eunuchs and 500 women in the imperial harem, but two years later they were gone.

For almost a century the Middle East, on paper at least, was free of slaves. “Human beings are born free, and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them,” proclaimed the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam in 1990. Early jihadist groups followed the trend, characterizing themselves as liberation movements and, as such, rejecting slavery.

But though slavery per se may be condemned, observers point to the persistence of servitude. The Global Slavery Index (GSI), whose estimates are computed by an Australian NGO working with Hull University, claims that of 14 states with over 1% of the population enslaved, more than half are Muslim. Prime offenders range from the region’s poorest state, Mauritania, to its richest per head, Qatar.

The criteria and data used by GSI have been criticized, but evidence supports the thrust of its findings. Many Arab states took far longer to criminalize slavery than to ban it. Mauritania, the world’s leading enslaver, did not do so until 2007. Where bans exist, they are rarely enforced. The year after Qatar abolished slavery in 1952, the emir took his slaves to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Government inspections and prosecutions are rarities. “The security chiefs, the judges and the lawyers all belong to the class that historically owned slaves,” says Sarah Mathewson of London-based Anti-Slavery International. “They are part of the problem.”

No labor practice has drawn more international criticism than the kafala system, which ties migrant workers to their employers. This is not slavery as IS imposes it; migrants come voluntarily, drawn by the huge wealth gap between their own countries and the Gulf. But the system “facilitates slavery”, says Nicholas McGeehan, who reports for Human Rights Watch on conditions in the desert camps where most such workers live.

The Gulf’s 2.4m domestic servants are even more vulnerable. Most do not enjoy the least protection under labor laws. Housed and, in some cases, locked in under their employer’s roof, they are prey to sexual exploitation.

Irons and red-hot bars

Again, these workers have come voluntarily; but disquieting echoes persist. Many Gulf nationals can be heard referring to their domestics as malikat (slaves). Since several Asian governments have suspended or banned their female nationals from domestic work in the Gulf out of concern for their welfare, recruitment agencies are turning to parts of Africa, such as Uganda, which once exported female slaves. Some domestic servants are abused with irons and red-hot bars: resonant, says Mr McGeehan, of slave-branding in the past.

Elsewhere in the region, the collapse of law and order provides further cover for a comeback of old practices. Syrian refugee camps in Jordan provide a supply of girls for both the capital’s brothels and for Gulf men trawling websites, which offer short-term marriages for brokerage fees of $140-270 each. Trafficking has soared in Libya’s Mediterranean ports, which under the Ottomans exported sub-Saharan labor to Europe. Long before Boko Haram kidnapped girls, Anti-Slavery International had warned that Nigerian businessmen were buying “fifth wives”—concubines alongside the four wives permitted by Islam—from neighboring Niger.

Gulf states insist they are dealing with the problem. In June Kuwait’s parliament granted domestic servants labor rights, the first Gulf state to do so. It is also the only Gulf state to have opened a refuge for female migrants. Qatar, fearful that reported abuses might upset its hosting of the World Cup in 2022, has promised to improve migrant housing.

And earlier this year Mauritania’s government ordered preachers at Friday prayers to publicize a fatwa by the country’s leading clerics declaring: “Slavery has no legal foundation in sharia law.” Observers fear, though, that this is window-dressing. And Kuwait’s emir has yet to ratify the new labour-rights law.

Rather than stop the abuse, Gulf officials prefer to round on their critics, accusing them of Islamophobia just as their forebears did. Oman and Saudi Arabia have long been closed to Western human-rights groups investigating the treatment of migrants. Now the UAE and Qatar, under pressure after a wave of fatalities among workers building venues for the 2022 World Cup, are keeping them out, too.

Internal protests are even riskier. Over the past two years hundreds of migrant laborers building Abu Dhabi’s Guggenheim and Louvre Museums have been detained, roughed up and deported, says Human Rights Watch, after strikes over unpaid wages. Aminetou Mint Moctar, a rare Mauritanian Arab on the board of SOS Esclaves, a local association campaigning for the rights of haratin, or descendants of black slaves, has received death threats.

Is it too much to hope that the Islamic clerics denouncing slavery might also condemn other instances of forced and abusive labor? Activists and Gulf migrants are doubtful. Even migrants’ own embassies can be strangely mute, not wanting criticism to curb the vital flow of remittances. When Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, visited the UAE this week, his nationals there complained that migrant rights were last on his list. Western governments generally have other priorities. One is simply to defeat IS, whose extreme revival of slavery owes at least something to the region’s persistent and pervasive tolerance of servitude.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Christianity, Culture, Egypt, Europe, European, Government, History, Immigration, India, Iraq, Islam, Islamic, Jordan, Labor, Law, Libya, Middle Ages, Middle East, Middle Eastern, Modern, Morocco, Nigeria, North Africa, Pakistan, Philippines, Radical Islam, Regional, Religion, Saudi Arabia, SE Asia, Social Problems, Sociology, South Asia, Tunisia, Turkey, War, West Africa, Yezidism

Jihadists Mass Executing Christians in Syria

Here.

Apparently ISIS has been executing Christians for refusing to convert to Islam – they were ordered to convert or die. The phrase “Islam was spread by the sword” refers to how Islam spread. Many non-Muslims were offered the choice of “convert or die.” If they refused, they got the sword – they usually got their heads chopped off. This is how Islam spread – by the mass murder of non-Muslims, often Christians.

We now have proof of an incredible 100,000 Georgians beheaded or burned alive because they refused to convert to Islam. The martyrs of Otranto are 813 Italian Christians beheaded because they refused to convert to Islam. In 1389, there was a mass slaughter of Copts in Egypt. Many had been converted at the point of the sword, but later they marched into Cairo, stating that they were returning to Christianity. All of the men were seized by the Muslims and beheaded in an open square in front of their women. This was done in order to terrorize the women, but the women refused to be fazed, so all of the women were then killed.

The most recent case involves 12 Christians – men, women and a 12 year old boy – who were seized by ISIL in Aleppo and ordered to convert in front of a crowd. They refused. The boy had his fingertips chopped off. He was then badly beaten. The three men were then badly beaten. Then all four were crucified, causing their deaths.

Next eight Christians, six men and two women between the ages of 29-33 were brought before the large crowd and ordered to convert. They refused. The two women were then raped in public. While they were being raped, the women prayed which caused their captors to beat them even harder. Then all eight were beheaded. After they were killed, their headless bodies were then crucified and left up for two days.

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Filed under Africa, Christianity, Egypt, European, Georgia, History, Islam, Middle Ages, Middle East, Murders, Near East, North Africa, Radical Islam, Regional, Religion, Syria

Germanic Influence on French

I knew that French had some Germanic influence, but I did not know where it was from. I thought maybe it was from the Gauls. But it turns out it was from a Germanic group called the Franks who apparently ruled France for many years. There are a number of German languages called variations of the word Franconian in Germany, mostly right over the border from France – Moselle Franconian, Rhine Franconian, etc.

The piece is correct that northern France is more Germanic. Southern France or the Occitan region is more like Spanish or Catalan.

As a result of over 500 years of Germano-Latin bilingualism, many Germanic words became ingrafted into the Gallo-Romance speech by the time it emerged as Old French in AD 900. And after the Franks abandoned Frankish, the Old French they spoke tended to be heavily Frankish influenced, with a distinctively Frankish accent, which introduced new phonemes, stress-timing, Germanic grammatical and syntactical elements, and contained many more Germanic loans not found in the Old French spoken by the native Gallo-Romans.

Even though the Franks were largely outnumbered by the Gallo-Roman population, the position of the Franks as leaders and landholders lent their version of Old French a greater power of influence over that of the Gallo-Romans; it thereby became the basis of later versions of the French language, including Modern French (see Francien language).

It is for this reason that Modern French pronunciation has a rather distinct and undeniably “Germanic” sound when compared to other Romance languages, such as Italian and Spanish, and is a major contributing factor in why there exists a distinction between Northern French varieties spoken in regions where Frankish settlement was heavy (langue d’oïl) vs. those where Frankish settlement was relatively slight (langue d’oc).

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Europe, European, France, French, German, Germanic, Germany, History, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Middle Ages, Moselle Franconian, Regional, Romance

Conservatives Promote Stupidity, How and Why

In the comments, Matt astutely notes about Republicans’ willful promotion of stupidity:

Rob, You may remember how conservatives at one time were writing all those books about how l “liberal” education policies were making American children stoopid (Closing of the American Mind, Don’t Know Much About…, Cultural Literacy). Whether their idea of the causation was correct or not, they were right; Americans are stoopid. But you’ll notice they’ve mostly shut up about it. They must have figured out that the poorly educated and the willfully ignorant were their base.

Good point Matt. Of course that’s their base.

Sure, a lot of people who vote Democrat aren’t very smart, but that’s just the way they are, and nothing can be done about it. Anyway, the Democratic Party in general is not hostile to science and does not promote complete and utter stupidity, except when they parrot GOP ideas and concepts.

What’s funny is that I’m sure the guys running the GOP are very smart people. No doubt they are often very intellectual guys. But they willfully peddle Stupid Juice by tankload to the masses, and they know full well what they are doing. It’s disgusting, but there’s a method to their madness. If they could get people to vote rightwing by peddling intelligence, I’m sure they would do that instead.

What’s disturbing is that conservatives have always promoted ignorance and stupidity everywhere they’ve been in power and at all times. The priests of the Middle Ages would not let the Bible be translated, because they didn’t want their flocks to learn to read. The Taliban burn down girls’ schools. The Nazis burned books.

When Fujimori seized power in Peru, he shut down most of the nation’s universities as hotbeds of subversion. The army raided the universities, ransakcked them, tore them to pieces, raided libraries and destroyed all the books, on and on. The universities were later reopened, and students shuffled back to campus, appalled at their trashed schools. Funding for the universities was gutted, and the books in the libraries were never replaced.

Curiously, Peruvian polls consistently show that a majority of Peruvians support Fujimori, so I guess Peruvians are even more retarded than Americans. At least we don’t send in the army to tear down UCLA and burn all the books in the library while the population cheers. Not yet anyway. I guess that’s in the future.

A similar thing happened in El Salvador under rightwing rule. The universities were shuttered as hotbeds of subversion.

Under Pinochet in Chile, funding for the public schools was gutted, and your average Chilean public school now is literally falling apart. The wealthy send their kids to public schools, so they don’t care. Not quite pro-stupidity, more like “we don’t want the masses educated.”

The same happened in Argentina, where funding for the public schools was incredibly transferred to private schools, leaving the public schools tottering and and decrepit. This is essentially what the Right in the US wants to do with their vouchers scheme.

The ruling elites have always feared that an educated population would figure out the rich people’s scam and cut off some of the loot or transfer some to themselves, so conservatives everywhere and at all times have attacked the education of the masses. The motto of conservatives is that the dumber the people are, the easier they will be for us to manipulate.

I am ashamed to admit that the worst Communists who ever lived, the Khmer Rogue, deliberately targeted any urban person with an education. They often signaled out those who worse glasses for execution. One wonders how much the national IQ went down during Khmer Rogue rule.

Mao executed intellectual dissidents during the 100 Flowers Campaign. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao shuttered universities and sent students to the work the fields with the peasants. The argument was that intellectual students were a privileged elite.

Stalin’s purges in the 1930’s disproportionately targeted the intellectual leadership of various ethnicities who he distrusted.

Otherwise, Communists have been some of the most pro-educational governments in the history of man, but we do have some shameful backsliding.

Any time your government is mass imprisoning and/or executing the intellectuals of society, it seems to me that the state is engaging in some pretty retarded behavior.

Here’s a plan! Let’s put all the smart people in prison! Better yet, let’s kill all the smart people! Duh. No better way to run your society into the ground.

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Filed under Americas, Argentina, Asia, Cambodia, Central America, Chile, China, Conservatism, Democrats, Education, El Salvador, European, Higher Education, History, Latin America, Left, Marxism, Middle Ages, Modern, Peru, Political Science, Politics, Regional, Republicans, SE Asia, South America, US Politics, USSR

Women, Men and Racial Loyalty

tulio asks:

Here’s another question. Is the stigma just as strong amongst white females? It’d be best to hear an answer from one of them, but I don’t think too many white females post in here.Do they ostracize one of their own the same way white men do? Like would a white woman who is married to a white man refuse to make friends with a white woman who is married to a black man? I’m sure some do, but how widespread is it I wonder? Is there a white sisterhood that also expels white women who like the brothas?

I think a lot of this stuff comes from the men. White men consider themselves superior to black men across the board. It’s always been that way and still is. So the ultimate slap in the face to him is to see one of his own women prefer not only a guy he considers inferior, but from the race he considers MOST inferior. It’s totally a male ego thing I believe, and if it’s true that this sentiment is much less pronounced amongst white females, then that makes the case even more plausible.

I don’t think women do this stuff to their sisters, but I could be wrong. With women, it’s all about who you love. If her friend falls in love with a Black guy, well hey, it’s wonderful and you support her. If it didn’t work out, well, it’s sad, but he was bad and she was just following her heart.

Women simply don’t have racial loyalty like men do. Men don’t really either, but they often won’t at least breed with the other races. They will just have fun with them. I actually know some insanely racist WN Nazis who are sex maniacs, and they have actually told me that they would bed a non-White hottie, just never marry or have kids with one. But women will actually marry out of our race and stir up the nice clean White gene pool. That’s why we need to police them and keep them in line.

Even White women who would never touch a Black will support her friend’s decision to go with a Black guy. It’s all about the sisterhood. It’s about finding a guy and breeding with him during her reproductive years. If your BFF found and bred with a Black guy who then left her, well, that’s sad, but it’s her decision and she was following her heart and her biological clock. With women, it’s all about whoever you fall in love with (chance – could be different race or even either gender).

ordinarily, it’s about finding a man, mating and breeding in that short time span. A woman doesn’t have much time and her options are limited. If she found a Black guy, hey, it was meant to be.

Men are much more into this racial loyalty/ethnic nationalism stuff than women. They’ve always punished women for sleeping outside the race, while letting the men do it if they wanted to.

In Medieval Spain, if a Jewish woman had sex with a Gentile man and was caught, the rabbinical courts (who had jurisdiction over this matter) would sentence her to having her nose cut off. In this way, Jewish women were kept in line. Jewish men would have sex with Gentile women. Any children were lost to the Jews anyway.

But the Jewish women had to breed pure and true with Jewish men. That’s why the line was judged matrilineally. You always know who your mother is, but you might not know who your father is. If your mother was a Jew, you’re a Jew.

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Filed under Blacks, Europe, European, Europeans, Gender Studies, Heterosexuality, History, Jews, Judaism, Middle Ages, Psychology, Race/Ethnicity, Regional, Religion, Romantic Relationships, Sex, Spain, Whites

Primitive Communism, Feudalism, the Fencing of the Commons and the Genesis of Capital

A far rightwing commenter disagrees that there existed primitive communism in the past, as theorized by Marx. Instead, he opines that primitive man lived, absurdly, in some condition called “the free market.”

You could say primitive man was communal but NOT communist. There is no such thing as voluntary Socialism/Capitalism. Such are contradiction in terms, Robert. If work within a group are completely voluntary, then it is by definition a free market. If they were forced to work together, then it was some sort of authoritarian-ruled collective. Either way your argument is bunk.

Needless to say this fellow’s definition of free market (capitalism as per Adam Smith) is quite unlike any other I’ve ever heard.

Read Marx.

Many primitive tribes lived under primitive communism. There was no free market among primitive tribes, there was no market period, there was no capitalism, there was no exploitation other than maybe of slaves, there were no wages, people lived in communes, hunted, collected, farmed, etc. for the common good. Food was divided amongst all members. No one hired anyone to do anything, paid them, marked up their labor, and sold it or products based on it for profit. Hence, no capitalism, no free market.

In the Middle Ages, there were many artisans, but they were more or less free agents akin to the self-employed. Shoemakers, tailors, chimney-sweeps, etc.

Much of the rest of society was under feudalism. Before the fencing of the Commons in England that was necessary for capitalism, most were primitive artisans or small landholders. Small parcels were farmed and some livestock was held. In the meantime, households made a few items here and there for sale.

There was no labor force for the plants that the capitalists wished to build. They were building the plants and no one was coming to work in them. Since people were happy to work their small parcels and do a little household industry on the side, no one wanted to give that up to become a wage slave in some Godawful capitalist firm.

In order to create a proletariat, the Commons was fenced off, and the small landholders were driven off the land into teeming towns where they crowded, starving and in rags, a new army of proletarian workers for the capitalists. There were long debates about this in the English Parliament about the necessity of throwing all of the small householders off their land and depriving them of their livelihoods in order to create a captive workforce who needed to sell their labor to capitalists or starve.

This process has actually been repeated over and over in the modern era and continues to this day in places like India, El Salvador, Paraguay, Brazil, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Philippines and Colombia where the poor are continuously being thrown off their small parcels so their lands can be seized by large landowners, and the poor farmers are hence proletarianized and turned into landless peasants.

There are even suggestions that this occurred in the early days of the US. So many Americans were becoming small landowners in the West that this raised serious problems for the creation of a captive proletariat. Hence much of the land was grabbed by the state and turned over to the railroads in an attempt to deprive small landowners of land and force them to sell their labor or starve.

Read Marx, “The Genesis of Capital.”

Capitalism is a new thing, mostly since about 1400 or so.

References

Marx, Karl. 1978. Genesis of Capital. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

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Filed under Britain, Capitalism, Economics, Europe, European, History, Left, Marxism, Middle Ages, Modern, Regional, The Americas, US

Do the Yezidis Worship the Devil?

Repost from the old site. This is a very, very long piece, so be warned. But the subject, the Yezidi religious group, is extraordinarily complex, as I found out as I delved deeper and deeper into them.

They are still very mysterious and there is a lot of scholarly controversy around them, mostly because they will not let outsiders read their holy books. However, a copy of their holiest book was stolen about 100 years ago and has been analyzed by scholars.

I feel that the analysis below of the Yezidis (there are various competing analyses of them) best summarizes what they are all about, to the extent that such an eclectic group can even be defined at all. The piece is hard to understand at first, but if you are into this sort of thing, after you study it for a while, you can start to put it together. There are also lots of cool pics of devil and pagan religious art below, for those who are interested in such arcana.

See also the companion piece, The Yezidis, a Mysterious Kurdish Religious Sect. This piece was written two years after that one when I realized that the prior piece had barely touched the surface of this very strange religious sect.

The Yezidis, a Kurdish religious group in Iraq practicing an ancient religion, have been accused of being devil worshipers by local Muslims and also by many non-Muslims. I wrote about the Yezidis in depth in a previous post; see them for more background on these interesting people.

The Yezidis appeared in Western media in 2007 due to the stoning death of a Yezidi teenage girl who ran off with a Muslim man. The stoning was done by eight men from her village while another 1000 men watched and cheered them on. Afterward, there has been a lot of conflict between Muslim and Yezidi Kurds.

As Western media turned to the Yezidis, there has been some discussion here about their odd religion. For instance, though the local Muslims condemn them as devil worshipers, the Yezidis strongly deny this. So what’s the truth? The truth, as usual, is much more complicated.

The Yezidis believe that a Creator, or God, created a set of deities that we can call gods, angels or demons, depending on how you want to look at them. So, if we say that the Yezidis worship the devil, we could as well say that they worship angels. It all depends on how you view these deities.

In the history of religion, the gods of one religion are often seen as the devils of another. This is seen even today in the anti-Islamic discourse common amongst US neoconservatives, where the Muslim God is said to be a demonic god, and their prophet is said to be a devilish man.

Christian anti-Semites refer to the Old Testament God of the Jews as being an evil god. Orthodox Jews say that Jesus Christ is being boiled alive in semen in Hell for eternity.

At any rate, to the Yezidis, the main deity created by God is Malak Taus, who is represented by a peacock. Although Yezidis dissimulate about this, anyone who studies the religion closely will learn that Malak Taus is actually the Devil.

On the other hand, the Yezidis do not worship evil as modern-day Satanists do, so the Satanist fascination with the Yezidis is irrational. The Yezidis are a primitive people; agriculturalists with a strict moral code that they tend to follow in life. Why do they worship the Devil then?

First of all, we need to understand that before the Abrahamic religions, many polytheistic peoples worshiped gods of both good and evil, worshiping the gods of good so that good things may happen, and worshiping the gods of evil so that bad things may not happen. The Yezidis see God as a source of pure good, who is so good that there is no point in even worshiping him.

In this, they resemble Gnosticism, in which God was pure good and the material world and man were seen as polluted with such evil that the world was essentially an evil place. Men had only a tiny spark of good in them amidst a sea of evil, and the Gnostics tried to cultivate this spark.

This also resembles the magical Judaism of the Middle Ages (Kabbalism). The Kabbalists said that God was “that which cannot be known” (compare to the Yezidi belief that one cannot even pray to God), in fact, the concept of God was so ethereal to the Kabbalists that mere men could not even comprehend the very concept. A Kabbalist book says that God is “endless pure white light”. This comes close to my own view of what God is.

Compare to the Yezidi view that God “pure goodness”. The Yezidi view of God is quite complex. It is clear that he is at the top of the totem pole, yet their view of him is not the same as the gods of Christianity, Islam, Judaism or of the Greeks, although it is similar to Plato’s conception of the absolute.

Instead, it is similar to the Deists. God merely created the world. As far as the day to day running of things, that is actually up to the intermediary angels. However, there is one exception. Once a year, on New Years Day, God calls his angels together and hands the power over to the angel who is to descend to Earth.

In some ways similar to the Christian Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, the Yezidis believe that God is manifested in three forms.

An inscription of the Christian Trinity, the father, or God, as an old man with a beard; Jesus, a young man, and the Holy Ghost, here depicted as a winged creature similar to Malak Tus, the winged peacock angel. Compare to Yezidi reference for Šeiḫ ‘Adî, Yazid and Malak Tus (Father, Son and Holy Ghost)

The three forms are the peacock angel, Malak Tus; an old man, Šeiḫ ‘Adî (compare to the usual Christian portrayal in paintings of God as an old man with a long white beard); and a young man, Yazid (compare to the usual Christian paintings of Jesus as a healthy European-looking man with a beard and a beatific look – a similar look is seen in Shia portraits of Ali).

Since there is no way to talk to God, one must communicate with him through intermediaries (compare to intermediary saints like Mary in Catholicism and Ali in Shiism). The Devil is sort of a wall between the pure goodness of God and this admittedly imperfect world.

This is similar again to Gnosticism, where the pure good God created intermediaries called Aeons so that a world that includes evil (as our world does) could even exist in the first place. On the other hand, Malak Tus is seen my the Yezidis as neither an evil spirit nor a fallen angel, but as a divinity in his own right.

One wonders why the Malak Tus is represented by a bird. The answer is that worshiping birds is one of the oldest known forms of idol worship. It is even condemned in Deuteronomy 4: 16, 17: “Lest ye corrupt yourselves and make a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air.”

More likely, the peacock god is leftover from the ancient pagan bird-devil gods of the region. The ancient Babylonians, Assyrians both worshiped sacred devil-birds, and carvings of them can be seen on their temples. The Zoroastrians also worshiped a sort of devil-bird called a feroher.

A winged demon from ancient Assyria. Yezidism appears to have incorporated elements of ancient Babylonian and Assyrian religions, making it ultimately a very ancient religion. Note that devils often have wings like birds. Remember the flying monkey demons in the Wizard of Oz?

The pagan Phoenicians, Philistines and Samaritans worshiped a dove, and the early monotheistic Hebrews condemned the Samaritans for this idol-worship. The pagans of Mecca also worshiped a sacred dove. Pagan Arabian tribes also worshiped an eagle called Nasar.

What is truly odd is that peacocks are not native to the Yezidi region, but instead to the island of Sri Lanka. The Yezidis must have heard about this bird from travelers and incorporated it into their religion somehow.

In the Koran, both the Devil and the peacock were thrown out of Heaven down to Earth, with the Devil and the peacock both suffering similar punishments. So here we can see Islam associating the peacock with the Devil also.

In popular mythology, peacocks tend to represent pride. Note that the Koran says that the Devil was punished for excessive pride (compare with a similar Christian condemnation of excessive pride). Peacocks are problematic domestic fowl, and tend to tear up gardens, and so are associated with mischief.

The Yezidis revere Malak Tus to such a great extent that he is almost seen as one with God (compare the Catholic equation of Mary with Jesus, the Christian association of Jesus with God, and the Shia Muslim association of Ali with Mohammad).

Malak Tus was there from the start and will be there at the end, he has total control over the world, he is omniscient and omnipresent and he never changes. They do not allow anyone to say his name, as this seems to imply that he is degraded. Malak Tus is the King of the Angels, and he is ruling the Earth for a period of 10,000 years.

They also superstitiously avoid saying an word that resembles the word for Satan. When speaking Arabic, they refuse to use the Arabic shatt for river, as it sounds like the word for Satan. They substitute Kurdish ave instead. Compare this to the Kabbalist view of God as “that which can not even be comprehended (i.e., spoken) by man.

In addition to Malak Taus, there are six other angels: Izrafael, Jibrael, Michael, Nordael, Dardael, Shamnael, and Azazael. They were all at a meeting in Heaven when God told them that they would worship no one other than him. This worked for 40,000 years, until God mixed Earth, Air, Fire and Water to create Man, as Adam.

God told the seven angels to bow before Adam, and six agreed. Malak Taus refused, citing God’s order to obey only Him. Hence, Malak Taus was cast out of Heaven and became the Archangel of all the Angels. Compare this to the Christian and Muslim view of the Devil, the head of the angels, being thrown out of Heaven for the disobedience of excessive pride.

In the meantime, Malak Taus is said to have repented his sins and returned to God as an angel. So, yes, the Yezidis do worship the Devil, but in their religion, he is a good guy, not a bad guy. They are not a Satanic cult at all. In Sufism, the act of refusing to worship Adam (man) over God would be said to be a positive act, one of refusing to worship the created over the creator, as in Sufism, one is not to worship anything but God.

The Yezidis say that God created Adam and Eve, but when they were asked to produce their essences, Adam’s produced a boy, but Eve’s was full of insects and other unpleasant things. God decided that he would propagate humanity (the Yezidis) out of Adam alone, leaving Eve out of the picture. Specifically, he married Adam’s offspring to a houri.

We can see the traditional views of the Abrahamic religions of women as being sources of evil, tempters, sources of strife, conflict and other bad things. The Yezidis see themselves as different from all other humans. Whereas non-Yezidis are the products of Adam and Eve, Yezidis are the products of Adam alone.

Eve subsequently left the Garden of Eden, which allowed the world to be created. So, what the Abrahamic religions see as man’s greatest fall in the Garden, the Yezidis see as mankind’s greatest triumphs. The Yezidis feel that the rest of humanity of is descended from Ham, who mocked his father, God.

Compare this to the Abrahamic religions’ view of women as a source of corruption. Christians say that Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden, causing them to be tossed out. In Islam, women are regarded as such a source of temptation and fitna (dissension) that they are covered and often kept out of sight at all times. In Judaism, women’s hair is so tempting to men that they must shave it all off and wear wigs.

The Yezidis say they are descended directly from Adam, hence they are the Chosen People (compare to the Jewish view of themselves as “Chosen People”).

Yezidism being quite possible the present-day remains of the original religion of the Kurds, we must acknowledge that for the last 2000 years, the Yezidis have been fighting off other major religions. First Christianity came to the region.

As would be expected, the Nestorian Christians of Northern Iraq, or “Nasara” Christian apostates, as an older tradition saw them, hold that the Yezidis were originally Christians who left the faith to form a new sect. The Nestorians and other ancient Christian sects deny the human or dual nature of Jesus – instead seeing him as purely divine.

This is in contrast to another group also called “Nasara” in Koran – these being the early Jewish Christian sects such as the Ebionites, Nazarenes and Gnostics, who followed Jesus but denied his divine nature, believe only in the Book of Matthew, and retained many Jewish traditions, including revering the Jewish Torah, refusing to eat pork, keeping the Sabbath and circumcision.

Mohammad apparently based his interpretation of Christianity on these sects. The divinity of Jesus was denied in the Koran under Ebionite influence. The Koran criticizes Christians for believing in three Gods – God, Jesus and Mary – perhaps under the influence of what is called the “Marianistic heresy”. At the same time, the Koran confused human and divine qualities in Jesus due to Nestorian influence.

Finally, the Koran denied the crucifixion due to Gnostic influence, especially the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. The local Muslims, similarly, hold that the Yezidis are apostates, having originally been Muslims who left Islam to form a new religion.

There is considerable evidence that many Yezidis were formerly Christians, as the Christian story holds. Šeiḫ ’Adî, one of the tripartite of angels worshiped by the Yezidis, was a Sufi Muslim mystic from Northern Iraq in the 1100’s. He attracted many followers, including many Christians and some Muslims who left their faith to become Yezidis. Yezidism existed before Šeiḫ ’Adî, but in a different form.

Šeiḫ ’Adî also attracted many Persian Zoroastrians, who were withering under the boot of Muslim dhimmitude and occasional massacre in Iran. Šeiḫ ‘Adî (full name Šeiḫ ‘Adî Ibn Masafir Al-Hakkari) was a Muslim originally from Bait Far, in the Baalbeck region of the Bekaa Valley of what is now Eastern Lebanon.

He came to Mosul for spiritual reasons. He was said to be a very learned man, and many people started to follow him. After he built up quite a following, he retired to the mountains above Mosul where he built a monastery and lived as a hermit, spending much of his time in caves and caverns in the mountains with wild animals as his only guests.

His followers were said to worship him as a God and believed that in the afterlife, they would be together with him. He died in 1162 in the Hakkari region near Mosul. At the site of his death, the Yezidis erected a shrine and it became one of the holiest sites in the religion. However, Šeiḫ ’Adî is not the founder of Yezidism, as many believe. His life and thought just added to the many strains in this most syncretistic of religions.

The third deity in the pseudo-“Trinity” of the Yezidis is a young man named Yezid. They say they are all descended from this man, whom they often refer to as God, as they sometimes refer to Šeiḫ ’Adî. In Šeiḫ ’Adî’s temple, there are inscriptions to both Šeiḫ ’Adî and Yezid, each on opposing walls of the temple. In a corner of this temple, a fire, or actually a lamp, is kept burning all night, reminiscent of Zoroastrianism.

There is a lot of controversy about what the word Yezid in Yezidi stands for. The religion itself, in its modern form, probably grew out of followers of Yazid Ibn Muawiyah Ibn Abu Sufyan, the 2nd Caliph in the Umayyad Dynasty of Caliphs. Yazid fought a battle against Mohammad’s grandson, Hussayn, in a battle for the succession of the Caliphate.

Hussayn’s followers were also the followers of Ali, the former caliph who was assassinated. The followers of Hussayn and Ali are today known as the Shia. The Sunni follow in the tradition of the Umayyads. In a battle in Karbala in 680, Hussayn and all his men were killed at Kufa and the women and children with them taken prisoner.

To the Shia, Yazid is the ultimate villain. Most Sunnis do not view him very favorably either, and regard the whole episode as emblematic of how badly the umma had fallen apart after Mohammad died.

Nevertheless, there had been groups of Sunnis who venerated Yazid Ibn Muawiyah Ibn Abu Sufyan and the Umayyads in general in northern Iraq for some time even before Šeiḫ ’Adî appeared on the scene. Šeiḫ ’Adî himself was descended from the Umayyads.

Reverence for Yazid Ibn Muawiyah mixed with the veneration of Šeiḫ ’Adî in the early Yezidis. It was this, mixed in with the earlier pagan beliefs of the Semites and Iranians discussed elsewhere, along with a dollop of Christianity, that formed the base of modern Yezidism. But its ultimate roots are far more ancient. Yezidism had a base, but it was not yet formed in its modern version.

Here we turn to the etymology of the word Yezidi. It is possible that the figure of “Yezid”, the young man-God in the Yezidi trinity, represents Yazid Ibn Muawiyah. By the mid-1200’s, the local Muslims were getting upset about the Yezidis excessive devotion to these two men. In the mid-1400’s the local Muslims fought a large battle against the Yezidis.

To this day, the top Yezidi mirs are all related to the Umayyads. Muslim scholars say that Yezid bin Unaisa was the founder of the modern-day Yezidis. Bin Unaisa was one of the early followers of the Kharijites, an early fanatical fundamentalist sect that resembled our modern-day Al Qaeda and other takfiri Salafi-jihadi terrorists. Bin Unaisa was said to be a follower of the earliest Kharijites.

These were the first Kharijites. Early split-offs from Ali’s army, they took part in the Battle of Nahrawan against Ali’s forces outside Madaen in what is now the Triangle of Death in Iraq. In 661, the Kharijites assassinated Ali, one of the penultimate moments in the Sunni-Shia split.

At some point, bin Unaisa split from the Kharijites, except for one of their early followers who were following a sect Al-Abaḍia, founded by ‘Abd-Allah Ibn Ibad. He said that any Muslim who committed a great sin was an infidel. Considering his fundamentalist past, he developed some very unorthodox views for a Muslim.

He said that God would send a new prophet to Persia (one more Iranian connection with the Yezidis), that God would send down a message to be written by this prophet in a book, and that this prophet would leave Islam and follow the religion of the Sabeans or Mandeans. Nevertheless, he continued to hold some Kharijite beliefs, including that God alone should be worshiped and that all sins were forms of idolatry.

In line with this analysis, the first Yezidis were a Kharijite subsect. The fact that bin Unaisa said that the new prophet would follow Sabeanism implies that he himself either followed this religion at one time or had a high opinion of it.

Muslim historians mention three main Sabean sects. They seemed to have derived in part from the ancient pagan religion of Mesopotamia. They were polytheists who worshiped the stars. After the Islamic conquest, they referred to themselves as Sabeans in order to receive protection as one of the People of the Book (the Quran mentions Jews, Christians and Sabeans and People of the Book).

One of the Sabean sects was called Al-Ḫarbâniyah. They believed that God dwelt within things that were good and rational. He had one essence but many appearances, in other words. God was pure good, and could not make anything evil. Evil was either accidental or necessary for life, or caused by an evil force. They also believed in the transmigration of souls (reincarnation).

It is interesting that the beliefs of this sect of Sabeans resemble the views of modern Yezidis. So Yezîd bn Unaisa believed in God and the Resurrection Day, he probably respected angels and the stars, yet he was neither polytheistic nor a true follower of Mohammad.

At the same time, he lined himself up with those People of the Book who said that Mohammad was a prophet, yet did not follow him (in this respect, he was similar to Western non-Muslims who acknowledge Mohammad as the prophet of the Arabs).

Although most orthodox histories of the Yezidis leave it out, it seems clear at this point that Yezîd bn Unaisa was the founder of the Yezidi religion in its modern form and that the Yezidis got their name from Yezîd bn Unaisa. This much may have been lost to time, for the Yezidis themselves say that Yezidi comes from the Kurdish word Yezdan or Êzid meaning God.

After naming their movement after Yezîd bn Unaisa, the Yezidis learned of Šeiḫ ‘Adî’s reputation, and become his followers, along with many Muslims, Christians and Iranians.

Like their founder, the Yezidis believe in God and the Resurrection, expect a prophet from Iran, revere angels and stars, regard every sin as idolatry, respect Mohammad as a prophet yet do not follow him and at the same time pay no attention to Ali (recall that the early Kharijites assassinated Ali). Being opposed to both Mohammad and Ali, bn Unaisa is logically despised by both the Sunni and the Shia.

The fact that the Yezidis renounced the prophet of the Arabs (Mohammad) while expecting a new one from Iran logically appealed to a lot of Persians at the time. Hence, many former Zoroastrians, or fire-worshipers, from Iran joined the new religion, surely injecting their strains into this most syncretistic of religions.

There is good evidence that many Yezidis are former Christians. The Yezidis around Mosul go by the surname of Daseni, of Dawasen in the plural. It so happens that there was a Nestorian diocese in Mosul called Daseni, or Dasaniyat. It disappeared around the time of Šeiḫ ’Adî. The implication is that so many of its members became Yezidis that the Diocese folded.

Furthermore, many names of Yezidi villages are actually names in the Syriac (Christian) language, more evidence that many Yezidis are former Christians.

Adding even more weight to this theory, the Yezidis retain two Christian customs – the baptism and the Eucharist.

The Yezidis must baptize their children at the earliest possible age and the priest puts his hand on the child’s head as her performs the rite. Both customs mirror the Christian baptism precisely.

When a Yezidi couple marries, they go to a local Nestorian Church to partake of the Eucharist. The cup of wine they drink is called the cup of Isa (Jesus). The Yezidi have great respect for Christian saints and houses of worship, and kiss the doors and walls of churches when they enter them.

When a Yezidi woman goes to the home of her bridegroom on wedding day, she is supposed to visit every every religious temple along the way, even the churches. On the other hand, Yezidis never enter a mosque. Sadly, the Yezidi reverence for Christianity is not returned by the Eastern Christians, who despise the Yezidis as devil-worshipers.

They revere both Jesus and Mohammad as religious teachers, not as prophets. They have also survived via a hefty dose of taqqiya, or dissimulation, in this case pretending outwardly to be some species of Shia Muslims.

This is common for minority faiths around the region, including the Alawi and Druze, who have both proclaimed at the top of their lungs that they are Muslims and have hidden to the aspects of their religion which would cause the Muslims to disown them at best or kill them at worst. The primary Islamic influence on the Yezidis is actually Sufism, not Shiism per se.

There are traces of other religions – Hinduism may possibly be seen in the five Yezidi castes, from top to bottom – Pir, Shaikh, Kawal, Murabby, and Mureed (followers). Mureeds are about on a par with Dalits or Untouchables in Hinduism. Marriage across castes is strictly forbidden, as it has been disapproved in India.

On the other hand, pre-Islamic Iran also had a caste system, and the base of the Yezidi religion seems to be derived from Persian Zoroastrianism. The Yezidi, like the Druze and the Zoroastrians, do not accept converts, and like the Druze, think that they will be reincarnated as their own kind (Druze think they will be reincarnated as Druze; Yezidis think they will be reincarnated as Yezidis).

The Yezidis can be considered fire-worshipers in a sense; they obviously got this from the Zoroastrians. The Yezidis say, “Without fire, there would be no life.” This is true even in our modern era, if we substitute “electrical power” for fire, our lives would surely diminish. Even today, when Kurdish Muslims swear on an oath, they say, “I swear by this fire…”

Many say there is a resemblance between Malak Taus and the Assyrian God Tammuz, though whether the name Malak Taus is actually derived from Tammuz is much more problematic. Tammuz was married to the Assyrian moon goddess, Ishtar. But this connection is not born out by serious inquiry.

Ishtar the Goddess of the Moon, here represented as a bird goddess. Worship of birds is one of the oldest forms of pagan idolatry known to man. What is it about birds that made them worthy of worship by the ancients? The miracle of flight?

Where do the Yezidis come from? The Yezidis themselves say that they came from the area around Basra and the lower Euphrates, then migrated to Syria and then to Sinjar, Mosul and Kurdistan.

In addition to worshiping a bird-god, there are other traces of the pre-Islamic pagan religions of the Arabs in Yezidism.

They hold the number 7 sacred, a concept that traces back to the ancient Mesopotamians. The Yezidis have seven sanjaks, and each one has seven burners of the flame, their God created seven angels and the sculpture carved on the temple of Šeiḫ ’Adî has seven branches.

The Sabeans, another ancient religion of Mesopotamia who are now called star-worshipers by their detractors, also worshiped seven angels who guided the courses of seven planets – it is from this formulation that our seven days of the week are derived. In the ancient religion of Assyria, Ishtar descended through seven gates to the land of no return. The ancient Hebrews likewise utilized the number seven in their religion.

An ancient seven-armed candelabra, a symbol nowadays used in the Jewish religion, with demonic sea monsters drawn on the base.

The Yezidis worship the sun and moon at their rising and setting, following the ancient Ḥarranians, a people who lived long ago somewhere in northern Iraq. Sun-worship and moon-worship are some of the oldest religious practices of Man. The ancient pagans of Canaan worshiped the Sun.

At the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the religion practiced there had little in common with Talmudic Judaism of today. For instance, the horses of the Sun were worshiped at that temple (see II Kings 25: 5, 11). The ancient Judeans, who the modern-day Jews claim spiritual connection with, actually worshiped the “host of heaven” – the Sun, the Moon and the Planets. So much for “the original monotheists, eh?

In Babylonia, there were two temples to the Sun-God Shamas.

Another pre-Islamic Arab pagan belief is the belief in sacred wells and sanctuaries that contain them. The springs contain water that has curative powers. The holy water found at the Zamzam Well in Mecca is an example; even to this day, Muslims bottle the water and carry it off for this purpose. Often sacred clothes are used to make these pilgrimages, because ordinary clothes are thought to contaminate the holy site.

In pre-Islamic days, when the pagans circled the rock at the Kaaba, they were completely naked. In Islam, men and women are supposed to remove their clothing and wear a special garb as they circulate around the rock. In Mandeanism, both men and women go to the Mishkana, or tabernacle, take off their clothes, and bathe in the circular pool. Emerging, they put on the rasta, a ceremonial white garment.

At the temple of Šeiḫ ‘Adî, there is a sacred pool. The Yezidis throw coins, jewelry and other things into this pool as offerings. They think that Šeiḫ ‘Adî takes these things from time to time. And they must remove their clothes, bathe and wear a special garment when they visit the holy valley where this temple resides.

The ancient Arabs also worshiped trees. There were sacred trees at Nejran, Hadaibiya and Mecca. The pagans hung women’s ornaments, fine clothes, ostrich eggs, weapons and other items.

Similarly, the Yezidis also worship trees. They have their favorite trees, and sick people go to these trees and hang pieces of cloth on them, hoping to get well, and believe that whoever takes one of these down will get sick with whatever disease the person who hung the cloth had.

An inscription of a sacred tree from Ancient Babylonian civilization. Trees were worshiped not just in ancient Arabia; they were also worshiped in Mesopotamia.The Christian Trinity combined with the pagan Tree of Life, in an interesting ancient Chaldean inscription that combines pagan and Christian influences. The Tree of Life was also utilized in Kabbalism, Jewish mysticism from the Middle Ages. Nowadays the symbol is used by practitioners of both White and Black Magic. Radical Islam is committing genocide once again on the Christians of Iraq, including the Chaldeans.Yet another Tree of Life, this time from ancient Assyria, an ancient civilization in Mesopotamia. The concept of a tree of life is a pagan concept of ancient pedigree.

The ancient Meccans used to worship stones. At one point the population became so large that they had to move out of the valley where the Kaaba resided, so when they formed their new settlements, they took rocks from the holy place and piled them outside their settlements and made a sort of shrine out of these things, parading around the rock pile as they moved around the Kaaba.

In Palestine, there were sacred wells at Beersheba and Kadesh, a sacred tree at Shekem and a sacred rock at Bethel. As in animism, it was believed that divine powers or spirits inhabited these rocks, trees and springs. This tradition survives to this day in the folk religion of the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.

The Yezidis also have certain stones that they worship. They kiss these stones in reverence.

When the Yezidis reach the goal of their pilgrimage or hajj, they become very excited and start shouting. After fasting all day, they have a big celebration in the evenings, with singing and dancing and gorging on fine dishes.

This hajj, where they worship a spring under Šeiḫ ‘Adî’s tomb called Zamzam and then climb a mountain and shoot off guns, is obviously taken from the Muslim hajj. Mecca has a Zamzam Spring, and pilgrims climb Mount ‘Arafat on hajj.

The shouting, feasting, singing, dancing and general excitement is typical of a pagan festival. The non-Yezidi neighbors of the Yezidis claim that Yezidis engage in immoral behavior on this hajj. No one knows if this is true or not, but if they do, it may be similar to the festivals of the Kadeshes discussed in the Old Testament, where people engaged in licentious behavior in their temples.

Although the Yezidis have a strict moral code, observers say that they allow adultery if both parties are willing. That’s pretty open-minded for that part of the world.

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A Brief Look at the History of Art in the West, 300 BC – 1350 AD

Updated February 24. I added a few more things here.

I’m just getting into the history of art, and most people don’t know the slightest thing about it either, so let’s take a little jaunt into art history and you’re welcome to come along on my journey.

This will focus mostly on the history of art in the West. This post isn’t complete at all, but at least it gives you an overview of the subject. What it does in brief is gives a list of the finest art produced in the West from 300 BC until about 1400 or so, with a brief jaunt into the 1800’s.

I only link to one of these works of art, but if you are interested in some of the greatest works of art ever produced by men, just copy paste the names of the works below into Google images and you should be able to get a look at what I’m talking about. I’m too lazy to track down links to all of these works, sorry.

First of all, a previous post that suggested that there was little art in the Dark Ages was completely mistaken. What is true is that there was a decline in the great art and architecture produced by the Romans. Roman art came from the Greeks, and I think the Greeks were better sculptors.

Great Greek buildings and statues include The Treasury of the Siphnians and Battle Between the Greeks and Giants (Delphi), Achilles or Spear Bearer, the Parthenon and the Temple of the Olympian Zeus (Athens), Temple of the Athena Nike (Acropolis), Aphrodite of Knidos, Hermes and the Infant Dionysus, the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos (out of this world), Warrior A, The Scraper, Venus de Milo, Gallic Chieftain Killing His Wife and Himself, Athena Attacking the Giants and Dying Gallic Trumpeter (Pergamon), Laocoon and His Sons, Nike of Samothrace and Hellenistic Ruler.

Statues such as the Venus de Milo are some of the finest statues, albeit classical statues, ever made. They are very realistic; one could even say that they are hyper-realistic. It is better to say that Greek art was idealized realism. That is, it is more real than real. If you look at Greek statues of humans, they are more perfect than humans actually are.

Anatomists have studied these statues and concluded that these statues are in fact more perfect than actual humans could be, down to the last detail. It’s an idealized and perfectionist vision of man and what he could be.

Greek art, and the Roman art that followed, is very secular. This sets it apart from the art that followed in 1000 years following the Fall of Rome, in which art become focused solely on religion. So in this way, the Greeks and Romans were extremely advanced for their time. In contrast to the wildly religious-obsessed art of the Middle Ages, Greek and Roman art nearly avoids religion, as if it was not important.

What was important, instead, was the secular, quotidian lives we live on Earth and all of the hopes, dreams, tragedies, comedies, joys, etc etc. of the human journey. In this crucial way, the Greeks and Romans were as modern as we were. If we could go back in time and air-drop cars and planes into their cities, I’m pretty sure they could go to town with them pretty fast. Quit thinking of these ancients as primitives. They were just like us!

Some Greek art such as Gallic Chieftain Killing His Wife and Himself and Dying Gallic Trumpeter, while secular, is also histrionic is a staged sense. These are the exaggerated emotions of our films and plays, the timeless saga of man, his travails, conflicts and emotions.

The point here is that the emotional content is wildly exaggerated in the way that it often is on stage in plays. Plays, like opera, since they lack the fancy sets of cinema, rely on exaggeration of emotion, to convey what they lack via fancy sets and multimillion dollar crews.

The Greeks made some great tile art too, like Alexander the Great Confronts Darius III at the Battle of Isos and Stag Hunt.

In a previous post I asked why the very early civilizations all built pyramids. The truth is not so surprising. A pyramid is the most basic and rational architectural structure to build. It’s a natural. If you empty salt onto a table, it ends up in a pyramid shape. A pile of about anything often ends up pyramidal. A pyramid is going to stay upright.

Building large things other than pyramids that are going to stay upright is a lot more difficult. This is why the Roman invention of the arch was so essential. In architecture, the arch is an essential ingredient to any advanced building.

If you see some of the reconstructed Roman structures in the context of the time, it’s as if they were built by aliens. That’s how far advanced they were beyond anything else of the time. I have seen interiors of large Roman structures that look like modern airport terminals (see the Central Hall of the Basilica Ulpia in Rome). Roman cities were laid out very rationally on perfect grids. They also made atriums, pillars, coliseums, on and on. Buildings had elaborate carvings made in them, often of men in combat.

Roman paintings do exist, but due to the fact that they used wood and paints that decayed, little has remained. Most remaining Roman “paintings” were done with tiles. I have seen Roman paintings that achieve a look that was not achieved again until the 20th Century (see The Unswept Floor by Herakleitos). Pompeii has many of these.

As with just about everything else, Roman art and architecture was out of this world.

Some of the great statues, tilework, carved artwork on buildings, buildings and cities are Head of a Man, Aulus Metellus, Imperial Procession, Commodus As Hercules, Augustus of Primaporta, Gemma Augustea, the House of the Silver Wedding and the House of the Vetii (Pompeii), Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, Battle Between the Romans and the Barbarians, Still Life (Herculaneum), the Colosseum, Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli and The Battle of Centaurs and Wild Beasts (at Hadrian’s Villa), Timgad in Algeria, the apartment blocks of Ostia, and the Arch of Titus, the Arch of Constantine and the Column of Trajan (all in Rome).

The Pantheon in Rome may be one of the greatest buildings ever made, though the competition is tight. The Dome of the Pantheon is out of this world.

It’s commonly said that Romans fell to barbarians, Germanic tribes. It’s true that they sacked the place, but it’s not true that the Dark Ages lacked art, as I noted above. What happened in the Dark Ages was a decline in the quality of art over that produced by the Romans and Greeks.

Furthermore, art became very restricted. Paintings, usually done with tiles, have a dark, depressing and Hellish theme, overridden with a harsh moralism. The world was a cruel and nasty place, and if you didn’t watch it and pray all the time, you were going to Hell.

Almost all paintings were of religious figures of one type or another. People often have a strange, otherworldly look. This is because as I noted in an earlier post on the Dark Ages, the Church had the only money at this time. If you wanted to get funded, you had to go to the Church and the Church would only fund Church-related stuff. Plus probably most art was being done in monasteries, as with most other productive activity beyond mere survival.

The people looked strange because the Church frowned on realistic looking people. That looked like real life, and the Church did not want to portray real life. They only wanted to portray the otherworldly realms of religion. In this attitude we can see the common religious attitude that the worldly life is permanently tainted with sin and must be avoided as much as possible.

Although this was a dark time for art and society, the focus on religion was reasonable. Truth was, life was so dark and dismal that the Church was where it was all going on. All art was about the Church because there was nothing else happening and life was really bad. All science, education, learning, reading, writing, wealth creation, art, architecture – it was all coming out of the Church. The money factor was crucial. Nowadays, if you want money, you go into business. Back then, you got into religion.

The reason that things fell apart so much in the Dark Ages was the collapse of urbanization. Country folks and back to the landers may not like city life too much, but when cities collapse, most everything tends to go to Hell. By contrast, the greatness of Greece and Rome was actually related to their high level of urbanization. City life seems necessary for advanced civilization to occur. With urbanization, some crucial factors probably jell together that start to mandate civilizational advances.

Characteristic of the time is large halos around everyone in the painting. It is accurate to say that art did not progress during the Dark Ages, that it actually went backwards.

Nevertheless, much fine material was produced.

Some of the excellent paintings, sculptures and buildings produced during the Dark Ages include the Church of Santa Sabina (Rome), the Church of Santa Costanza, the Mausoleum of the Galla Placidia, the Dome of the Baptistry of the Orthodox and the Church of San Vitale, the Transfiguration of Christ with Saint Apollinaris, First Bishop of Ravenna – a painting in the Church of Saint Apollinaire of Classe (all in Ravenna, Italy), the Hagia Sofia (Istanbul) – one of the finest buildings ever built, the first written Bibles such as the Rabbula Gospels from Syria, the Paris Psalter, the Ebbo Gospels and the great Crucifixion with Angels and Mourning Figures cover of the Lindau Gospels (all from France) and the Book of Kells from Scotland (Out of this world!), the Cathedral of Saint Mark (Venice), the Palace Chapel of Charlemagne (Aachen, Germany), ornaments from the Sutton Hoo burial ship (Suffolk, England), the Gummersmark brooch (Denmark), the Labro Saint Hammers (Gotland, Sweden) the burial ship from Oseberg (Oseberg, Norway), the Gero Crucifix from the Cologne Cathedral (Cologne, Germany) and the Church of Saint Cyriakus (Gernrode, Germany).

Note that fine art was even produced up in Scandinavia. These people were not primitive by any means. The problem up there is that most art was created out of wood. There was plenty of that, but it doesn’t make very good art, and most important, it doesn’t last. For really great art, it helps to have some big rocks, and I think there are a lot more trees than rocks in Scandinavia.

Greece looks like while God was creating the world, he took a break to throw rocks at Greece. The place is littered with stones. Hence all of the fine stone sculptures, buildings and cities of Greece.

Great art continues in the High Middle Ages, such as the Church of the Monastery of Christ in Chora (Constantinople) and the painting Anastasis on its apse, the Doors of Bishop Benward at the Abbey of the Church of Saint Michael (Hildesheim, Germany), Doubting Thomas in the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos (Castile, Spain), Christ in Majesty in the Church of San Clemente (Tahuil, Catalonia, Spain), the Borgund Stave Church (Sogn, Norway), the Durham Cathedral (Scotland), the Church of Saint Etienne (Caen, France), the Speyer Cathedral (Speyer, Germany), the Church of Saint Ambrogio (Milan, Italy), the Cathedral Complex (Pisa, Tuscany, Italy), the Church of San Clemente (Rome), printed works such as the Worcester Chronicle (Worcester, England) and the Winchester Psalter (Winchester, England), the woven Bayeux Tapestry (Bayeux, Normandy,  France) and the Portable altar of Saints Kilian and Liborius from the Helmarshausen abbey (Helmarshausen, Saxony, Germany).

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is also in the Pisa Complex. The tower is leaning not because it was top heavy, though it is, but because it was built on sand. It would have fallen over long ago without our efforts to shore it up. These efforts are vast and ongoing. We are tunneling under the building and shoring it up in various ways to keep it from falling. Right now things are so bad that it is so dangerous to be around the tower that visitors are forbidden from walking within toppling distance of the thing.

One reason that the art above is so great, even those famous Bibles, is that monks would spend 20 years, 40 years, or a lifetime making say one Bible, one treasure box, painting one church. Not only that, but a whole team might work for many years on an object or interior church design. These monasteries were like miniature factories. They weren’t producing a lot, but no one else was either. They were very inefficient, but there was no competition.

Gothic is in the High Middle Ages, and this is starting to head into the Renaissance, although everything is still about religion.

Gothic had some superb works, and now we are looking at some of the finest churches of all, including the Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Chartres, France), another of the greatest buildings ever built, the Amiens Cathedral (Amiens, France), an incredible building, another Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Paris), a competitor with the Notre-Dame in Chartres and possibly better, another Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Reims, France), possibly the best one of them all, the Saint-Chapelle (Paris), yet another awesome building, and the Salisbury Cathedral (Wiltshire, England) – too much!

Gothic architecture clearly produced some of the finest buildings that have ever been built. It’s characterized by tall, thin cathedrals with vast spires jabbing away at the sky.

The purpose of those spires was to point towards heaven. The idea of the tall buildings was to make them closer to Heaven, and also the various monasteries and bishops were in competition with each other to see who could build higher buildings. The tall, thin shape that gets more pointed towards the top is the best way to build a tall building for the same reason that a pyramid is a natural form.

A building that gets more pointed near the top is less likely to topple over than a top-heavy building that has as much weight at the top as at the bottom. One of those Gothic cathedrals actually had a building that did not get more pointed as it rose and that part of the building toppled over.

How did they build those cathedrals? They used scaffolds. Often families of men, fathers, sons, grandfathers, multiple generations, would work on the buildings.  They usually worked for free or room and board. The Church told them, “Hey, if you guys work on this church your whole life, you will go straight to Heaven.” Yeah right.

One purpose of the cathedrals was conversion. Life was pretty dismal in those days, and the life of a serf was bad. So you took a humble person and should him this wild cathedral, so beyond anything else he had ever seen that it may as well have been built by aliens, and you pretty much had a convert on your hands, so awe-struck was he.

These cathedrals show us just how much money the Church had at this time. For all intents and purposes, the Church had all the money and no one else had a dime. It’s a truism that while the Roman Empire did formally fall, really it just morphed into the Roman Catholic Church.

The fundamentalist crowd wonders why we care so much about separation of church and state. We care because back in those days, the Church was the state. English kings pondered for lifetimes ways to get the Church out of the business of running the damn country. No wonder Henry VIII threw the Church out and set up the Anglican Church. It was the only way to get free of this octopus and its tentacles.

In the Late Middle Ages, great works continue, including the Exeter Cathedral (Exeter, Devon, England), a mind-boggling structure, the Ely Cathedral (Ely, Cambridgeshire, England), the dome of which makes you wonder how they even built it, the Cathedral of Palma (Mallorca, Spain), up there with the greatest and the Church of the Holy Cross (Schwabisch Gmund, Germany), the Virgin and Saint George, the altarpiece of the Church of San Francisco, Villafranco del Panades (Barcelona), the Shrine of the Three Kings (Germany), the Florence Cathedral (Florence), an incredible building, the Siena Cathedral (Siena, Italy), another awesome structure, the Life of John the Baptist on the doors of the Baptistry of San Giovanni (Florence), Giotto di Bondone’s Last Judgment on the west wall and Life of Christ and the Virgin on the north and south walls of the Arena Chapel and Duccio di Buoninsegna’s Maesta Altarpiece for the Siena Cathedral.

Around 1340, one of the first works including landscapes and regular people with no religious significance was done, Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good Government in the City and Allegory of Good Government in the Country, two frescoes in the Sala della Pace in the Pallazo Pubbico in Siena. The moving away from religion and focus on our real world shows how the Late Middle Ages were leading into the Renaissance.

The periods of the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance seem to blend together. The Renaissance ran from around 1350-1600. The Late Middle Ages are thought to be from 1300-1450, so there is definitely overlap. The truth is that the Late Middle Ages shade into and lead into the Renaissance. In the Renaissance, we get the first non-religious art since the fall of Rome.

I don’t have much to say about the art of China and Japan except that it is good. It’s difficult to compare this art with the art produced in Europe. They all had their own styles  and it’s hard to say if any one of them is better than the other, but I don’t think that Japanese art is any better than what was being done in Europe at the time.

Islamic art is actually very good, especially the tilework on the interior of mosques up on the domes. This is excellent art, and as good as what was being done in Europe. The only thing you can say about Islamic art is that their ridiculous religion bans them from drawing humans.

I have seen some early Jewish art, but I wasn’t much impressed by it. Jews are very smart and many modern artists are Jews, so Jews can clearly make great art. The problem here is that like in Islam, Jews were forbidden to make graven images, and the forbidding of idol worship means you can’t draw people, and that tends to really limit your artwork. The fact that Islam has the same prohibition means to me that Islam has borrowed from Judaism.

The art of Central America is interesting, and some of it is not bad. I don’t think it’s superior to European art, but I’m not sure if it’s inferior either. Some of the gold ornamentation is really great.

I really hate to bag on Blacks here, but I should say something about African art. I was not very impressed with it. The best building was the Great Friday Mosque in Djenne, Mali, built in the 1200’s. It’s made of mud and wood. It’s ok, but compared to what was being built in Europe and the Arab World at the time, it’s not much at all. Afrocentrists like to go on about the Great Zimbabwe built around 1300. Yes, it’s a long wall made of stones with some conical structures here and there. If this is Africa’s greatest architecture, I don’t know what to say. It’s not much.

However, I was very impressed by statue heads and masks out of Benin from 1400-1650 and continuing on to 1900. Some of that is excellent. It is usually made of brass. However, I am told that they were already coming under the influence of Europeans, especially Portuguese, and this spurred this nice art. I don’t care what influenced them. There is some cool art coming out of Benin around the time of European Renaissance.

I’m not so impressed with the earlier stuff out of Yoruba or the very early stuff out of Nok in Nigeria. However, we must acknowledge that Nok was one the flashpoints for early African civilization and more was accomplished here sooner than anywhere else in Africa.

At any rate, today Africans produce some superb art, especially African masks. Travelers to Africa with some cash often pick them up and it’s a great investment. I’d love to have one on my wall.

In the 1800’s, all art and music was in the classical traditions. If you wanted to be an artist of a musician, you had to go to school and study the classics. That was really the only way to paint or make music. Hence, art and music had stagnated. The classical art and music had been taken to the limits and the best had already been done. Michelangelo and Beethoven were not going to be surpassed. There was nothing to innovate anymore.

One of the first impressionist was Édouard Manet. His first impressionist painting, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) (1863) was a strange painting of a two clothed men eating a meal with a naked woman in a park. It caused a scandal because the people pictured were real people, not religious, historical, mythological, political or monarchic figures (the five permitted types).

It was not really possible to paint a real person. All art had to be of one of the five types of persons above. The idea of painting a real person was ridiculous.

Manet’s painting caused a scandal not because the woman was nude. It was ok to paint nudes if they were of the five types of persons allowed. The idea that someone would paint a nude of a real life person was outrageous.

It was made even worse because people knew the names of those who were painted – the men were his brother, Eugene Manet, and his girlfriend’s brother and future brother in law, Ferdinand Leenhoff and the woman was Victorine Meurent, Manet’s favorite model and later an artist in her own right.

Further, the subject matter was seen as shocking, nearly pornographic. What were the clothed men doing eating with the naked woman? It was as if they were both going to have sex with her at the same time in a menage a trois .

What Manet did with that painting was like saying, “Screw you,” to the Art Establishment of the time. It was like punk rock, an act of artistic defiance. It was anti-art, anti-classical art, and anti-Art Establishment.

Manet many and his supporters got banned from a major art exhibition in 1863, the Salon de Paris. The jury of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which dominated the French art scene at the time, voted to exclude his painting from the Salon, and those of many other Impressionists were also banned.

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PC Attacks the Dark Ages

What exactly is meant by the Dark Ages? It seems the term has fallen out of favor as non-PC and judgmental. Some refer to it as the entire Middle Ages period from the Fall of Rome in 450 to the Renaissance in 1500. That seems ridiculous. A more sensible judgment seems to be to say that the Early Middle Ages, from 450 to 1000, are the Dark Ages.

The Dark Ages are dark because much of the knowledge accumulated under Rome and Greece was simply lost. Urban life in Europe was more or less abandoned with the fall of the Roman Empire, and people just went back to the rural living that they were used to. With all of the imperial drawbacks of Rome, at least they brought civilization. With the end of Rome, things just went entropic.

Another problem is that little survives from the Dark Ages.

Classic architecture vanished; it was not until the 800’s and 900’s that neo-Romanesque starts to appear. There seems to have been little art. Little was written down, or at least very little has survived.

There is approximately a 100 year period of British history about which we know almost nothing. Nothing survives from the period, and all we have is people writing later about it.

This was before Xerox machines, and people hadn’t figured out a way to make books survive very long, so once books started falling apart, they had to be recopied word for word by hand. This was usually done by monks in monasteries, but they often got the translations wrong such that some surviving documents are so mangled and multiply mistranslated that we hardly know what to make of them.

Even the history of this period is often difficult, and it gets difficult to sort fact from fiction. The Legend of King Arthur may be a fable. Robin Hood may have been little more than a common criminal. And on and on. There were endless wars during the period, often over religion, typically over idiotic trivial questions of religion.

It was a time of backwardsness, stupidity and barbarism. Monty Python’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, set in Britain in the early 500’s, ridicules the backwardsness, stupidity and barbarism of Dark Ages Britain.

Urbanization basically vanished, and most cities simply fell apart. Centralized authority also collapsed. Although Kings and Empires supposedly ruled, they often didn’t have much power.

After the Dark Ages comes the High Middle Ages. This lasts from 1000-1300 and is a much more sensible and civilized time. Wars seem to lessen, there are the first efforts at separation of church and state and the first stabs at trial by jury, and a great deal of written matter survives.

The next period is the Late Middle Ages, and things seem to get even better. This period actually leads into the Renaissance. True,  there was an insane 100 Years War ending around 1450, but that nonsense seemed to disgust people so much that it seemed to lead the way to the more rational Renaissance.

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The Roman Catholic Church in the Dark Ages

I don’t have time to do an in-depth research of the Roman Catholic Church in the Dark Ages, but during my research on the Lombard Family in Italy, I came away with the idea that during the Dark Ages the Roman Catholic Church was very weak. When the Lombards conquered Northern Italy around 500 or so, they slowly converted to Orthodoxy, not Roman Catholicism.

For the next few hundred years in Italy, even after the Lombards conquered most of Italy, the Lombards appeared to be Orthodox, as were most of their subjects. The Monte Cassino abbey, famously destroyed by bombing in WW2, seems to have originally been an Orthodox abbey in the 700’s. In fact, in the entire history from 400-1000 of the Lombards in Italy, I barely see any mention of the Roman Church or the Pope.

Around the 800’s, these small entities called Papal States show up, but they are just around Rome and don’t seem to have much power. Even into the 800’s and 900’s much of Southern Italy seems to be Orthodox, under the sway of the Byzantines.

What seems to have happened is that after Rome fell, the Church simply shifted over to Constantinople. It was from here that Byzantium ruled. From what I can tell, most of the Catholics in Europe at this time are under Byzantium and not Rome, and they are Orthodox, not Roman Catholic. I’m told that the Roman Catholic Church was very weak in the Western part of the former Roman Empire throughout the Dark Ages for some reason.

Towards the end of the Dark Ages, the Roman Church started getting a lot more power. The split between Rome and Constantinople seems to have come later, after which Rome amassed much power. But for the first 600 years or so, it seems that almost all Catholics were just Orthodox. Catholic and Orthodox seem to have been synonymous.

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