You out there who are reading, reenacting, going to Renaissance faires, opting out of the 21st century if just for a little while to be in the Middle Ages.
What is it we are looking for? Not a time when life was easier. It is as if we have some fundamental “hard wired” hunger for elements of that past time: for a knowledge of herbs, for loyalty to a personally known and nearby figure of leadership, for clothing that celebrates the human shape instead of merely covering it, or concealing it.
For a social system that is knowable: for a system where we are not cast out at the end of high school or college into a vastly complex world where we must sink or swim. In the Middle Ages, and for eons back through time, men and women knew their place in the world from birth, though there was room for the energetic and ambitious to move upward, or the very unfortunate to move downward.
But for most people life was going to be what it was for their parents. What old people knew had value because the world had not changed so greatly during their lifespan as to make their experience irrelevant. The young could feel comfort in the wisdom of their parents.
It is this comfort of continuity, I believe, that we seek in the Middle Ages. We have the traditional culture imprinted within us. We are drawn to it as a magnet draws iron.
For the last third of a century I have spent my most contented hours researching the life and times of Simon de Montfort. His life was far from happy, the complexities that beset him were very “modern”: in addition to his loving the wrong women, he struggled with high interest rates and the jealousy of his fellow lords — what amounted to his co-workers.
But though his problems were not so different from current issues, his solutions — honor, truthfulness, care for his family, fidelity to the principles he had come to believe in — are eternal and yet seem to be slipping from view in our current time amidst the hurly burly of ambition, insecurity and a culture that seems more and more to be holding greed and celebrity as the principal virtues.
How can we capture for ourselves what we perceive to be of worth in the Middle Ages?