Category Archives: folklore

The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (2003 world wisdom * isbn 094153246)

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) (not to be mistaken with his almost equally famous son Rama Poonambalam Coomaraswamy (1929-) was a contemporary of René Guénon and ‘fellow-Traditionalist’. He was the son of a Sri Lankan father and a British mother, born in Sri Lanka, but raise in the United Kingdom and was in person and ‘philosophically’ a bridge between the East and the West. Like I said, he was a Traditionalist like Guénon, meaning that he thinks that there is one primordial Tradition from which all religions sprung. His starting-point is not (as you might expect) Hinduism, but art. As the title of this book shows, this is an anthology of the man. The book was compiled by his son Rama. The lengthy introduction by Arvind Sharma contains nice information about the time of Guénon and Coomaraswamy and some critical notes on the first.
There are 20 chapters, which are mostly articles and essays published in other books. Some of his more well-known writings can be found. Most of the texts are about art. This should be taken in a broad sense of the word. Coomaraswamy’s idea is that a work of art is made by a person who is ‘in contact’ with the ‘overworld’ and makes something usefull after a divine model. This gives a totally different conception of the term than we use today. A tea-cup is (when it is made ‘Traditionally’) a work of art and a bomb is a work of art if it does what it is made for well. Coomaraswamy does not have a very positive view of modern art and museums (also not when they collect ancient items). Nowadays art seems to be something elitaristic, only made for the artist himself and others may or may not like it, but most of all, there is no use for the ‘works of art’ of today save for putting them in a museum for the sole sake of being advertisement for the ‘artist’.
During the course of this book you will read about literacy, “Eastern Wisdom And Western Knowledge”, folklore, “The Interpretation Of Symbols” (not a practical guide btw), “What Is Civilization?”, all which chapters mostly speak about art, but you will also learn about Traditionalism; the last two chapters are “The Hindu Tradition: The Myth” and “The Hindu Tradition: Theology and Autology”.
Coomaraswamy reads easier than Guénon. He is sometimes more outspoken too. It is nice to see a similar (Traditionalism), but different (art versus esotericism) starting point. Coomaraswamy has written a few famous titles, but like Guénon his bibliography is enormous, so a “the essential” is a very good introduction.
(22/5/06 -4-)
Read quotes of Coomaraswamy here.

Ontslaap Nu In Mijn Armen, Mijn Lief * Koenraad Logghe (1996)

The complete title of this booklet is Ontslaap nu in mijn armen, mijn lief – het doodsgebeuren: een heidens alternatief. The first word is a Dutch word that isn’t used very often. It is a beautifull word which means something like ‘pass away’, ‘to fall asleep’. Then the title of this booklet means ‘Pass away in my arms, my dear – the befall of death: a pagan alternative’.

The booklet is written by Koenraad Logghe of Werkgroep Traditie from Belgium. It was published by Traditie itself and can only be ordered by Traditie. I suppose that you have guessed that it is written in Dutch. As the title suggest the booklet is about dying, death, rituals, etc. in a ‘pagan perspective’. The writer starts with discribing how illness and death are hidden away in our society. Not that long ago a person died in company of his/her loved ones who knew what to do in the periode of dying and thereafter. Nowadays many people die in a hospital and special companies take care of the burial or cremation.

Then Logghe continues to explain the difference between burial and cremation, speaks about ancient burial rituals (like with the use of cromlechs or burial mounds) and how our ancestors (might have) looked at this important face of life. Then follows detailed information about the Norse/Germanic symbols around death, rituals, the different ‘souls’, heilagr, örlogr, etc., etc. This part is a very nice compilation of this information together. The second half starts with a more psychological part about how relatives experience the death of a loved one, followed by a long part with possible rituals, songs, poems, information for speeches, etc.

Ontslaap is a very nice booklet to give you ideas about how the forgotten practices around death and dying can be revived and given meaning again. Also the first half is very helpfull to get a quick idea how our ancesters actually saw this whole process and how it fitted in their worldview. A very nice little book (about 150 pages), but you will have to contact Traditie to get a copy of it.

Tussen Hamer en Staf * Koenraad Logghe (1992)

This book was published in 1992 and has been long sold out. The writer doesn’t want it republished in this form, but hopes that some day a reworked version will be available. I was lucky enough to run into a second hand copy at antiqbook.com and I think I paid more for this second hand copy than it has costed new in 1992. The book is in Dutch (eh, Flemish) and the title means “Between hammer and staff”. The subtitle of the book is “pre-Christian symbolism in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe”. (“The Netherlands is pluriel in Dutch, so the writer means Belgium and the Netherlands.) Koenraad Logghe has investigated the pagan origins of various forms of ‘folkish art’ such as on houses, rooftops, fenses, doors, gravestones, etc., etc. You will read about the dividing of the year (summer side and winter side), the world-tree or Irminsul, mother earth symbols, acre-symbols, etc. The 187 page book is stuffed with images which serve as examples for the text. This way you will get an idea of some symbolism and possibly recognise it yourself when you run into it. Reading the book you will not only get an idea of the worldview or our ancestors, but also how elements of this worldview have survived until the present day. Often people know that certain things were used by the parents or grandparents, but they forgot the meaning of such ornamentations. Logghe gives you back the key to understand this kind of expressions. A wonderfull and very handy book if you have interests in this field. Just keep checking a site such as Antiqbook.com if you want to get a copy too. Maybe you can get a copy from a libarary and photocopy it (there are 13 Dutch libraries which have it). And even more maybe, a new version will be made available some day.
ISBN 9072100425 / 9030406666

Heidens Nederland * Judith Schuyf (ISBN: 9053450637 * 1995)

“Heathen Netherlands, visible remains of a not-Christian past” is a nice little book that was ten years ago. The second printing of 1997 is available here and there, but it seems that you can’t just order this book anywhere. I have seen second hand copies a few times, but bought a new copy last week at a museum.

As the (sub)title suggest, the writer will take you on a tour through the Netherlands looking for pre-Christian sites or symbols. When I first heard about the book, I expected some kind of catalogue which lists such sites by area with a short explanation. When I ran into a copy I couldn’t see what could be found where and I put the book back disappointed. So for start: don’t expect a catalogue with pagan remains!

What the writer probably did is make such a catalogue for herself, but she put it in the form of a book. She starts explaining what it is that she investigated, giving the religion and cults of what is now the Netherlands, saying something about this religion and cults and in the meantime noting a few places where things can still be seen.
Part II may be called “catalogue”, but it is not the catalogue that I hoped for. It is a catalogue by subject, but then in an ongoing ‘story’ and not systematically given. Schuyf tells about heathen mountains, so called ‘table mountains’, sacred trees, offering stones, devil stones, wells and pits and also a range of folkloristic (even Christian) habbits that have a pre-Christian source, such as the offering of nails, the ligate (?) of illnesses, healing trees and wells, protective crosses, tribunal places (-stones, -trees), etc. etc.

All this is -like I said- explained and the examples of (possible) remaining places all throughout the country are mentioned in the text. Sometimes there is a photo with a discription how to get there. But if you want to know what can be found in the area where you live, you will have to scan the book for place names that sound familiar or you know where they are.

All in all there are not too many, but quite a few nice things to be found in my country beside the famous burial mounds and hunebeds. These are often places of which the name suggests that in pre-Christian times they had a special significance, but here and there there are some nice (mostly folkloristic) remains that are worth checking out.

So for those interested in these kinds of things either living in or visiting the Netherlands may have to look around a bit to find this book, but it is not too expensive and a nice read with good suggestions for being/becoming tourist in the Netherlands.

Rituele Repertoires * Gerard (G.W.J.) Rooijakkers (ISBN 906168403X * 1994) & Eer en Schande * Gerard Rooijakkers (ISBN 9061684471 * 1995)

A while ago I saw Gerard Rooijakkers giving a lecture about “Volksgerichten In Zuidoost Brabant” which means something like “peoplescourts in Southeast Brabant”. “Noord-Brabant” is a Dutch province in the south. The lecture was about how the closed village-communities of a few centuries ago, made their members clear if they did something that the communitie could not agree with. Nowadays we go to court or send the police to a wrongdoer. In the 17th century this was a possibility, but in practise the communities wanted to solve things themselves. The spokesman mentioned a book of his a few times, so I looked it up and got it from the local library.

Rooijakkers wrote his thesis about the folklore of the area that I live in. The writer has a preference for what he calls “black folklore”, the part of folklore that we (try to) forget about. This was already heard in the lecture. The bookform of Rooijakkers thesis “Rituele Repertoires” is a large one (700+ pages) with a lot of information about the social, political and clerical history of Southeast Brabant. You can read about the customs of the common people, the reactions of the Catholic south to the reformation, the counter-reformation, etc. The information is about the time 1559 to 1854. Is was interesting to read such a detailed history of the area that I live in, how the southern Netherlands were formed, the invasions of the French and the Spaniards, the changes of Christianity and especially what happened in this period in the small villages where all this took place. In different ways -for example- the Catholic people tried to make clear that the Protestant priests were not welcome. This could vary from shitting in the church to molesting the priest and even ‘banishment rituals’. Rooijakkers keeps highlighting the ritual meanings of such actions and gives a wide variety of examples and quotes many old texts (in old Dutch). It is easier to give the idea by returning to the subject of his lectures about ‘peoplescourts’.

When a man did not treat his wife well, the community put him to shame to show him his place. An often-used method was the so-called “ploegspannen”. The man was bound in front of a plough (instead of a horse) and forced to plough the field in front of his house. The purpose of this method is plural. First of course physical punishment, but more important is the element of shame. The whole village (and of course the surrounding villages) knew about the incident. Even if they didn’t know what the man had done, they know now, because only in the ‘bad husband case’, the man got this kind of punishment. Further shame is the field in front of the house that was wracked up, so passers-by knew for the weeks to come that something had happened here.

The customs of the local people did of course not only deal with punishment, but the line is sometimes thin. For example, when a man and a woman wanted to marry, the unmarried male part of the community wanted something in return for the woman, because their ‘market’ had become smaller. Usually the groom was supposed to give away beer. Should he not do this, the “jonkheit” (an old word for ‘youth’, but it refers to all unmarried males) would come to his house and make noise. If the beer still didn’t come, there were ways to spoil the marriage day in such a way that everybody would know that the groom had been a cheap-ass.

More of such customs and situations are spoken about (but the range of subjects is much wider). In “Rituele Repertoires” at length, in “Eer en Schande” (which means ‘honour and shame’) in a more modest booklet (176 pages). The dissertation is no longer in press, but the smaller booklet is. “Eer en Schande” has all the interesting and funny information of the large book, is a lot cheaper and has images that are not found in the large book. Besides what is mentioned above, you can read about rituals around death, swearing, seasonal customs, the ‘sociability’ (youth-culture of the earlier mentioned ‘jonkheit’), etc.

Rooijakkers follows the old customs to more recent times and he is about the only one who does this. The cover of ‘Eer en Schande’ shows a slaughtered dear nailed against the churchdoor of Hoogeloon in 1994. It was obvious to people that this was bad news, but noone really knew what this action meant. Rooijakkers had more of such recent examples of ‘black folklore’. It seems that he and certain individuals (the dear was put on the church door as a warning by poachers against people who had warned the police about their actions) want to keep the memory of this side of the folklore alive. Rooijakkers describes the elements and ritual value of this and other folkloristic actions.

Very interesting, especially when you live in Brabant, because it all takes place in the Southeast part of Noord-Brabant.