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  • Writer's pictureJeanne Johansen


An 11th century book called Lebor Gabala Erin, or The Book of Invasions, attempts to explain the origins of the Irish people. From a historical point of view, the major problem with the work is that it was written long after pagan Ireland had converted to Christianity, and the medieval scribes took pains to try to reconcile pre-Christian traditions with the light of Christ. The book contains some wonderful legends – the Fir Bolg, the druid-like Tuatha De Danann, magical mists and one-armed, one-legged giants. But would the pagan Irish work so hard to trace their origins back to the descendants of Noah?

Probably not, but we should not be too critical of the Irish writers of Lebor Gabala Erin. In modern times, we still slant “history” to tell the stories we want to tell, the stories – the historical fictions, actually – that are comfortable for us.

For example, in the 19th century, after centuries of persecuting Catholics, the Protestant English of the Oxford Movement created a story of an Anglican High Church that was somehow still in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. To do this, they had to overlook a depraved Queen Elizabeth who not only outlawed the wearing of crucifixes but also outlawed praying for the dead, a custom that anthropologists usually link with the beginning of civilized behavior. She particularly favored the drawing and quartering of English Jesuits, who weren’t allowed in her

kingdom. She was the head of the Anglican Church.

In Victorian times, the Pre-Raphaelites returned us to a Camelot that probably never existed.

But we’re no better on this side of the Atlantic. I come from a state that calls itself the Old Dominion. My college’s athletic teams are called the Cavaliers, all because Virginia supposedly supported the Anglican and Catholic Stuart kings during the English civil war, but there’s little to no historical proof of that.

And then there’s our own Civil War, in my part of the country called the War Between the States or the War to Stop Yankee Aggression. My UDC – that’s United Daughters of the Confederacy – great aunts helped to birth the myth of the noble Lost Cause. But the North won the war, and they got to write the history, favoring themselves a bit too much.

It works down to a personal level. I love my parents and my family, but growing up was not as idyllic as I sometimes want to remember it.

My website quotes Joan Didion’s famous comment, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live. At least for a while.”

She’s absolutely right, but the problem is that sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are lies, deceptions to make us feel better about ourselves.

The scholastic fathers were also right: “The heart is desperately wicked, and deceitful above all else.”

So where does that leave us?

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