The lost land of Greater Ireland

Early Irish writings, including the ‘Imramma’ poems, identify Irish monks sailing to North America. Later writings, including the Brendan Voyage do likewise.

Brendan's ship sailing by pillars of Ice - art by Jim Fitzpatrick and copyright to him.

The Norse annals, which were intended as historical records, do likewise, in the Landnámabók and the Annals of Greenland, which itself is written evidence supporting the now-accepted fact that the Vikings had reached North America in the 11th century.

A number of Norse sagas, including that of Erik the Red, also cite Irish sailing and colonising North America prior to the Norse arrivals.

Throughout these texts, this land is referred to as Írland hit mikla (Greater Ireland) or Hvítramannaland (White Man Land) due to the perception of those who were resident there.

Even in 12th century Sicily, the Arab historian Al-Idrisi wrote of the existence of Irlandah-al-Kabirah, or Greater Ireland, located to the west of Iceland.

And the Shawnee legends of the Amerindian peoples near Chesapeake Bay refer to the existence in their history of white men carrying poles and using iron instruments.

And artifacts have been found in locations including West Virginia which bear marks cognate with the Ogham script of ancient Ireland, though this is disputed.

This is all generally hand-waved away by contemporary historians as mere mythology, as they quite reasonably insist on incontrovertible archeological evidence.

Mind you, they used to do the same thing in relation to the Vikings until Anse-aux-Meadows was discovered. Even then, they still attempted to argue away the Helluland site on Baffin Island, even sacking the archeologist and her husband and sequestering her evidence.

I’m always intrigued by such historical disputation, and often wonder cui bono? Could a narrative which supported earlier European engagement with North America in anyway undermine Canadian claims to the wealth in and under the Arctic, for example? Such has been alleged in the past.

In any case, I hope they do find Greater Ireland one day, just as they appear to have already found Vinland and Helluland.

Who loves thy neighbour, and which neighbours do they love the most?

One reason to study religious futurisms is because the world is becoming MORE religious, not less. In that context, it’s worth considering what various religious and non-religious groups think about one another. Here’s a nice table, derived from a new Pew Research set of polls, looking at this in the American context.

There are some fascinating anomalies here, more anomalies than patterns really, but we will need to explore these societally if we hope to have a peaceable future society. Additionally, the headline is a little disingenuous since mainstream Christian sects don’t tend to view Mormonism as Christian.

And there are many significant gaps in the polling which renders it incomplete. For example, what do Muslims think of the other sects? What about Buddhists, one of America’s fastest growing religions? Or Hindus? Or Orthodox Christians? What about New Age/Pagan/Wicca-based beliefs? Or Indigenous beliefs? And so on.

Nevertheless, this research, as a snapshot in time, is a reasonable starting point for ecumenical outreach for those who are religious, for religious futurist research for those like me who have an academic interest, and for those (sociologists, theologians, politicians, policy-makers) exploring similar inter-relationships in other territories.

For me, a number of these anomalies are particularly intriguing. Only Mormons like everybody. Only Jews are liked by everybody. Opinions on Muslims are almost entirely negative. Historical gulfs between Protestants and Catholics appear to be elided.

The biggest agreed antipathy instead is actually between Evangelical Protestants and Atheists. And the biggest imbalance in regard is between Jews and Evangelical Protestants (a 79 point divide). There is, in short, lots to digest, even if the research is limited in terms of range (America only) and scope (the various creeds for some reason not included.)

I suspect such a table would look different in different locations, needless to say. But we won’t know for sure until someone does the relevant polling in other nations. I look forward to such data emerging in time.

Double Vision Politics

A week on from the US Presidential election of 2020, and with still much controversy and confusion involved, though a consensus among the media and global leaders that Joe Biden of the Democrats is the President-Elect, I think it might be opportune to give my 2c on the matter.

A succinct metaphor which has been suggested from time to time relating in particular to American politics, and its divisive two-party system, is “one screen, two movies.” The metaphor works because it proposes the idea that there is a set of events, what we might call reality, upon which two separate narratives are projected.

We can see this happening in America, and indeed in quite a few other places, if we choose to look. Partly this is a product of binary thinking, our (often false) predeliction arising from having hemispheric brains that there are two things to choose from in any scenario. There is black and white, up and down, left and right. But there is also brown, yellow, blue, green, opaque or transparent. There is sideways. There is in short always perpendicular options to the binary. There is, in short, nuance.

But let us return to ‘one screen, two movies.’ What happens if you try to watch BOTH movies at once, in real time? Or even simply flick back and forth between the two, like a magic eye picture? It’s obviously disorientating. A bigot Nazi righteously thrown out of office becomes an isolated victim of mass electoral fraud. A fifty year career political veteran becomes a senile old coot with a druggie son who’s been compromised by China. And so on. In short, there is such distance between the narratives that they almost cannot be comprehended simultaneously.

Critically, it seems almost impossible to reconcile them. There is no possible Hegelian synthesis here. These perspectives are oil and water, all the more unmixable for being all the more fundamentally rooted in a sense of tribal identities. The wailing despair which greeted Trump’s election four years ago, a gutteral howl from genteel middle-aged women captured on camera, is matched only by the outcry of relief and triumphalism of Biden’s supporters, a cohort who only a few years back were meming about how he was the dumbass idiot foil to a wise and weary Barack Obama.

Once practised a little, it becomes a parlour game of whimsy. Pick any topic and try to guess at the polarised views. Immigration controls are either a racist rejection of non-white humanity, or else a belated attempt to shore up jobs for Americans. Transgender storytime in libraries is an act of education and acceptance or a sign of enforced degeneracy and an attempt to destroy families and identity. And so on. But it goes beyond whimsical games of course. These viewpoints are not reconcilable and no amount of calls for unity will make them so.

The biggest tragedy is that there is no attempt at empathy from either side to the other. Both feel under fundamental attack from friends, neighbours, even family. This is tearing natural human relationships apart, inside and outside America. People don’t want to watch two movies on one screen. They can’t tolerate the cognitive dissonance. Instead, they are forced to demonise those who are watching the other movie.

One wonders therefore how it will end. Half the US electorate will feel inevitably disenfranchised no matter what, as has been the case for Trump’s entire term of office. America is, of course, an empire in slow decline and has been for quite some time. But, not unlike the bankrupcy of Mike in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, empires tend to fail very slowly, then all at once. And the power vacuum a collapsed America would create is highly concerning. No wonder Russia and China look on with interest.

I of course am no expert on the matter, having only a couple of years as a political correspondent for an Irish newspaper, and a lifetime’s passion for the sport of elections, to fuel my speculations. But if journalism taught me anything, it taught me the importance of being able to speak to people you do not agree with, to be able to genuinely listen to them and what they think and why they might think it, no matter how bizarre or repellant or even threatening it may seem. However, I am tiring too of watching two movies. The double vision is not conducive to clarity. For the next while, I will instead focus my attention on just one thing, and as a literary critic and academic scholar…

Dystopia seems like a good choice.