Posted by: aboutalbion | June 14, 2012

Temple of Albion (8)

A mythology is the eighth anthropological guideline for identifying a religion.  Under this head, I would begin to collect evidence from the British coronation ritual, from the recent television series ‘How God made the English’, and from the outline plan of the upcoming Olympic Games.

Some elements of a UK mythology come into focus at the coronation of a British monarch.  At the last one, for Queen Elizabeth the Second in 1953, there was a traditional ritual that had religious elements in it.  And it located a British coronation inside a worldview that sees a monarch as ordained by God for her/his duties.

During the coronation, one of the (multi-part) questions put to Queen Elizabeth was: “Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolable the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?”

After the taking of the oaths, Queen Elizabeth was presented with a Bible while the following words were spoken: “Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.”

The coronation liturgy is influenced by the Hebrew Bible account of Zadok the priest anointing King Solomon.  And the most sacred part took place under a canopy and concealed from public gaze (and out of the sight of photographers and television cameras).   Here, the Archbishop of Canterbury, using consecrated oil, anointed Queen Elizabeth on the hands, head, and heart.

To my mind, the religious acts at a British coronation symbolize the mythology of the granting of divine favour to the monarch.

In the recent television series “How God made the English”, an Oxford professor attempted to explain how it was that England has a “belief in its importance way beyond its geographical size”.  He constructed a line of argument that claimed that England’s sense of its own superiority chiefly derived from a Christian belief that the English are “God’s chosen people”.  Beginning with the venerable Bede, he drew parallels between England and the nation of Israel.  He mentioned King Alfred arranging for his legal code to have 120 chapters, one for each year of Moses life.  And he highlighted the elements of the coronation liturgy that were modelled on that of King Solomon (the anointing mentioned above).  The Oxford professor went on to suggest that London at the time of the coronation in 1953 could just as well be Jerusalem at the time of the coronation of King Solomon 3000 years previously.  To him, this re-emphasized the link between the English and the Israelites of old.

Clearly, the United Kingdom is larger than England.  But I would ask an anthropologist to note the widely held notions that the UK has been ruled by Kings and Queens whose right to rule was thought to be approved of by God of the Bible.

A couple of days ago, plans were revealed outlining some aspects of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London in a few weeks’ time.  For the very large international audience, the opening ceremony will (amongst other things) portray Great Britain as ‘a green and pleasant land’.  The phrase is taken from William Blake’s poem popularly known as “Jerusalem”.  When these words are sung, there is little doubt that they are sung as a very popular patriotic song.  So again, there is here an allusion to the origins of our UK mythology being aligned with the Bible.  The ceremony itself will begin with the ringing of a very large (23 ton) bell, which could be interpreted as a traditional religious symbol of the culture of the UK.

With evidence such as this, I would try to interest an anthropologist in the existence of a UK national mythology – a mythology that seems to have a narrative that starts in ancient Israel, and then a renewal with the Venerable Bede that has continued to the present day.

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