I writes a lot of historical fictions and have to do lots of research. But I’m often coming across very intriguing facts about places and time periods.
Writing in certain time periods it very difficult to avoid discussing religion if you’re going to remain authentic to that era. Even the creators of “The Vikings” knew that.
This below sounds like a passage from “The Divine Comedy ” but it isn’t. It’s from an old Breton ballad. The passages about hell were written after the Divine Comedy by priest named Morin, who lived in the fifteenth century and the heavenly ballad written by a man named Michel de Kerodern.
Tartarus and Paradise
Two very striking old Breton ballads give us very vivid pictures of the Breton idea of Heaven and its opposite. That dealing with the infernal regions hails from the district of Léon. It is attributed to a priest named Morin, who flourished in the fifteenth century, but others have claimed it for a Jesuit father called Maunoir, who lived and preached some two hundred years later. In any case it bears the ecclesiastical stamp.
having abused their gifts in this world. Hell is a profound abyss, full of shadow, where not the least gleam of light ever comes. The gates have been closed and bolted by God, and He will never open them more. The key is lost!
“An oven heated to whiteness is this place, a fire which constantly devours the lost souls. There they will eternally burn, tormented by the intolerable heat. They gnash their teeth like mad dogs; they cannot escape the flames, which are over their heads, under their feet, and on all sides. The son rushes at his father, and the daughter at her mother. They drag them by the hair through the midst of flames, with a thousand maledictions, crying, ‘Cursed be ye, lost woman, who brought us into the world! Cursed be ye, heedless man, who wert the cause of our damnation!’
“For drink they have only their tears. Their skins are scorched, and bitten by the teeth of serpents and demons, and their flesh and their bones are nothing but fuel to the great fire of Hell!
“After they have been for some time in this furnace, they are plunged by Satan into a lake of ice, and from this they are thrown once more into the flames, and from the flames into the water, like a bar of iron in a smithy. ‘Have pity, my God, have pity on us!’ they call; but they weep in vain, for God has closed His cars to their plaints.
“The heat is so intense that their marrow burns within their bones. The more they crave for pity, the more they are tormented.
“This fire is the anger of God which they have aroused; verily it may never be put out.”
One turns with loathing, with anger, and with contempt
from this production of medieval ecclesiasticism. When one thinks of the thousands of simple and innocent people who must have been tortured and driven half wild with terror by such infamous utterances as this, one feels inclined to challenge the oft-repeated statement concerning the many virtues of the medieval Church. But Brittany is not the only place where this species of terrorism was in vogue, and that until comparatively recent times. The writer can recall such descriptions as this emanating from the pulpits of churches in Scottish villages only some thirty years ago, and the strange thing is that people of that generation were wont to look back with longing and admiration upon the old style of condemnatory sermon, and to criticize the efforts of the younger school of ministers as being wanting in force and lacking the spirit of menace so characteristic of their forerunners. There are no such sermons nowadays, they say. Let us thank God that to the credit of human intelligence and human pity there are not!
The opposite to this picture is provided by the ballad on Heaven. It is generally attributed to Michel de Kerodern, a Breton missionary of the seventeenth century, but others claim its authorship for St Hervé, to whom we have already alluded. In any case it is as replete with superstitions as its darker fellow. The soul, it says, passes the moon, sun, and stars on its Heavenward way, and from that height turns its eyes on its native land of Brittany. “Adieu to thee, my country! Adieu to thee, world of suffering and dolorous burdens! Farewell, poverty, affliction, trouble, and sin! Like a lost vessel the body lies below, but wherever I turn my eyes my heart is filled with a thousand felicities.
I behold the gates of Paradise open at my approach and the saints coming out to receive me. I am received in the Palace of the Trinity, in the midst of honours and heavenly harmonies. The Lord places on my head a beautiful crown and bids me enter into the treasures of Heaven. Legions of archangels chant the praise of God, each with a harp in his hand. I meet my father, my mother, my brothers, the men of my country. Choirs of little angels fly hither and thither over our heads like flocks of birds. Oh, happiness without equal! When I think of such bliss to be, it consoles my heart for the pains of this life.”
All of it is biblical. That priest description came from The Book of Enoch and the uncanonicalized Epistle of St. Peter.