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Friday, January 27, 2012

Battling Dragons: The Mythology of British Demographics


    The red dragon and the white dragon of Arthurian legend have long been as an allegory for the Celtic vs. Saxon conflict. According to mythology, Merlin had a vision of a white dragon that attacked a red dragon and for a time seemed to prevail over it. But eventually the red dragon threw off the white one and triumphed in the fight. For some modern nationalists, this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled by freeing of the "Celtic Nations" from "Saxon Bondage," are put more plainly, the independence of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland from "England." In truth, they mean the UK, but they seem confident that they can hoodwink people into believing that is a mere technicality. On the contrary, there is definitely a need for specification when trying to get a handle on the complex demographics and political state of the British Isles.

    To begin with, many Nationalists advocates tend to depict the English people as a purely Saxon off-shoot, in comparison with the other residents of the British Isles who are represented as being purely Celtic origin. They also impress upon the popular imagination the image of the Celts as perpetual innocent victims, who fought only to protect their own land rather than to conquer more. The Saxons, on the other hand, are painted as inherent "baddies" with a land-lust that was and always will be unusually insatiable. Oddly enough, there tends to be a blind-spot concerning how the Celts came to live in the British Isles in the first place.

    Previous to the arrival of the Celtic peoples, Britain and Ireland were inhabited by various migrant tribes of Neolithic farmers, some of whom are credited with building the ancient stone structures that dot the landscape. The ruins of these wonders (the most impressive of which is Stonehenge) stand to this day as lasting testimonies to the tribesmen’s surprising ingenuity and skill. As highlighted in the song “Newgrange”, the memory of these people lives on even though we know next to nothing about them and “forgotten is the race that no one knows.” Since their culture was unrecorded by the pen, we can only archeology and imagination to fill in some of the spaces which have been left blank in written historical annals.

    When the Celts began their odyssey from Eastern Europe to Western Europe and finally settled in the British Isles, we can only assume they encountered the previous inhabitants. Archeology has not turned up any signs of large-scale fighting between them, but then neither has it uncovered any evidence supporting massive conflict when the Saxons first encountered the Celts. It must be assumed in both cases that the two groups had small-scale skirmishes in different areas before eventually mingling and learning to live alongside one another. Eventually, the culture of the invaders became dominant as more and more of them settled in the British Isles.

    Not only does this indicate that the Celts were just as capable of conquering/subsuming as the Germanic tribes, but it also goes to show that from the very beginning the Celts had "mixed blood" from intermarrying with the Neolithic tribes, just as the Saxons would later mix blood with the Celts, making both of them far from pure bred. Even in the lands where the Saxons were held for longer periods and a predominately Celtic identity was retained, cultural mixing took place in due course. After the Germanic tribes came the Scandinavian Vikings who raided, pillaged, and yes, settled in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, bequeathing to these lands much of their musical and literary culture, along with the famous red hair that has often been identified as a "Celtic" trait.

    After the Viking attacks came the Norman Conquest, which resulted in the subjugation of the predominately Saxon English and established a ruling class in all four countries of the British Isles, “Celtic” or otherwise. The result was that much of the subsequent fighting there can be summed up as Norman feudal wars. For example, both Edward II of England and Robert the Bruce of Scotland who faced each other at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 were of Norman ancestry, not Saxon or Celtic. So the colorful analogy of the red dragon and the white dragon is something of a false front, used to project a divisive and simplified view of history. But the simple truth is that pure ancestry is not a thing to be grasped at, especially if you're British.


The Battle of the Red Dragon and the White Dragon

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