Friday, 9 December 2011

An Ancient Race of Priests

It is said that, back in olden days, a strange and mystic religion dominated the southern half of Britain. The shadowy priests of that religion, it is claimed, knew prayers for asking their god to change the weather, to end famine, to prevent plagues or to curse religious offenders. Today we have only the remains of their stone houses of worship. Yet their beliefs influence the names of many of our towns and villages to this day.

The Church of England.

It is said that their "vicars" had to undergo various special rituals to be fit for their tasks. Their houses were specially designed to be freezing cold, to instil discipline. They had to get up specially early on Sunday mornings - probably in the hope that the degree of sleep deprivation they suffered encouraged them to experience religious hallucinations. They had to learn to speak an ancient language which nobody understood, but everyone liked to hear. Both of their holiest books were written in this language. These days we have forgotten the names of those two books - only the letters "BCP" remain. We believe this may have been a technical term - "Basic Common Parlance", perhaps.

The "vicars" were expected to lead their religious rituals in their "churches". Churches were also a kind of memory-house of the community as, when  the followers of the religion found that their furniture was wearing out, or they were putting new pieces of carpet into their houses, the old items would be taken to the church and "laid up" in one of the back-rooms as a remembrance.

As far as we can tell from tradition, the priests were expected to be telepathic. However we only have this from a degree of anecdotal evidence, on those occasions when they failed to discern by magic what their followers were feeling. Certainly when this happened the priest was deemed to have failed, and the follower would often move to follow another priest who might be more capable of spiritual discernment. And this tension was further repeated in the repeated jokes that their followers played on the priests. As far as we can understand, their followers would request that the priests held rituals every day in the morning and evening, but then never turned up themselves. This must have been some kind of "holy joke" as surely the priests would have spotted that the laugh was on them in the end.

We are also aware that the Church of England held a kind of Saturnalian festival every midwinter.  In a kind of debauched ritual of the "Lord of Misrule" kind, round about the 27th of December, the religious communities were left in the care of the lay people.  Meanwhile the priests went to the seaside for a fortnight.

From those priests whose bodies were conveniently preserved through the over-application of incense or port, we have an idea of the kind of special clothing that they were expected to wear. In the case of men, these were tweedy jackets of a kind that had died out among the rest of the population in the 1950s; while the  women seem to have been expected to wear clothes that were mostly made of paisley. The highest-ranking male priests appear to have worn purple shirts, but so far we have been unable to find any evidence of what their female equivalents may have worn.

The last priests were wiped out from these islands by the invasion of the "New Atheists". Facing the unaccustomed new weapons of satire, scorn and the terrifying "straw men", there was no way the priests could resist. 500 years ago their ancestors had stood firm despite the fires of Oxford and Smithfield - but now the weakened race could not resist. Tradition has it that the last priests tried to turn the weapons of the New Atheists against them, arguing that "deep down all paths lead to the same place, and in a very real sense I think you'll find we're violently agreeing."

These days, of course, some cutting-edge Archaeologists argue that the "Church of England" never really existed. But I like to think there is something in the old legends. I know we find it hard to understand what their beliefs were. But then so, I suspect, did they.


  1. A Race of Ancient Priests indeed! I do wonder what our great, great, great grandchildren will make of what we leave them.


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