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The Ritual Of The Dead

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on October 23, 2015 in News & Opinion |

There is something about the ritual of remembrance which fascinates, something which pulls people together and makes them whole, regardless of who they are, where they come from or their status in life. At some stage in our lives we all fall for this ritual: birthdays, anniversaries, holy holidays, they are all ritualistic and needed. So when Martin Kettle asserts in The Guardian that such ritualistic remembrances are obsolete and should be done away with, I am torn between two positions. Should we remember, or should we forget?

Admittedly, the Battle of Agincourt between the English and French took place a very long time ago. There is no one alive today who can remember the battle, no one who knows for certain, from a personal point of view, whether a member of their family took part unless they are a member of the aristocracy. The sufferings, the politics, the reasoning behind the battle are not within living memory, they can only be found by consulting one of many history books and trying, impossible though it is, to place the times within a context which can be understood today.

Should such events be wiped out from remembrance, consigned to the books hidden on dusty shelves and only brought out into public view when new information is found, a new study, a new perspective? Should those who remind us of such anniversaries be silenced, effectively, and all memorials to past events cut off after a certain number of years? Martin Kettle appears to believe so, and that despite the fact that such an anniversary – six hundred years – isn’t one which comes up every single year, unlike the memorial celebrations and remembrance services for battle in the twentieth century, which are still within living memory. But since there is no ritual attached to the memory of the Battle of Agincourt, what does Martin Kettle have to say?

Agincourt Memorial

Photo Source: Charles D P MillerCreative Commons

For one thing that there is no memorial to the battle, to the fallen, and that even though the article includes an image of a part of the memorial area – the memorial stone is shown here – and even though there is a very interesting museum which highlights the times and events. Perhaps Martin kettle meant that there is no memorial in England, which may well be true, although I am sure there are enough statues of those aristocrats who fell or were involved in the battle littered around England.

He also writes that English politicians feel compelled to wear a poppy to commemorate the fallen of two world wars, to show their patriotism. Yet this is only one instance of patriotic fervor, as anyone who looks towards the United states can see, with all the pins and badges and questions about why one politician or another isn’t wearing the right pin at a certain time and whether, through this failing, they hate America. Even in the United Kingdom pins are to be seen everywhere – the flag of union, St Andrew’s cross, St George’s cross. The poppy is worn to commemorate, but not just that. The poppy is worn to show that a contribution has been made to the welfare of the families of those who died, not just in the two world wars, but in every war since. The wearing of a poppy is not just related to the start of the twentieth century, but also to the later period; the Falklands’ War, the Gulf Wars are all within living memory and all have their wounded and suffering. Those who do not wish to be seen commemorating war can also purchase a white poppy, and suffer the looks and comments of those who disagree with their personal stance.

Should these ritualistic commemorations be laid to rest? The Battle of Agincourt was six hundred years ago, it can hardly be said that a ritualistic commemoration is taking place on Sunday, exactly the same as the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta was not surrounded by a ritualistic ceremony, simply a commemoration. There are other, far older events which could be pulled into the limelight and questioned.

Why, for example do we still celebrate – every single year – the birth and death of a man who, through the teachings of those who followed and corrupted his ideals, caused so much death and suffering across the entire planet? Everything we know about this man is speculation, stories concocted over two thousand years and, as we all know, bound more in ritualistic celebration than anything else. Isn’t it time, Martin Kettle, that we took a look at the Easter and Christmas celebrations and consigned them to history too? Isn’t it time that we left them to the history books and only brought them out for view when another hundred years has passed?

  • Viktoria Michaelis.

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