The Past Intrudes Upon The Present: While they continue to ride forth, pausing in their wild career to salute with uplifted arms, and uplifted swords, the Crusaders cheering fans, deep racial memories, born of the bloody excesses of Pakeha New Zealanders’ ancestors, will stir and rise to the surface. The past has a dangerous way of intruding upon the present.
THE DEBATE over re-naming the Crusaders rugby team is being framed as a case of inadvertent cultural insensitivity. According to the team’s administrators, the name was chosen simply because it “represented Canterbury rugby’s crusading spirit”. It was also a name which, way back in 1996, lent itself to all kinds of effective merchandising. Certainly, no harm was ever intended to the Christchurch Muslim community. Which is why, in the context of the recent terrorist atrocity, the team management is casting about for a new name, a new brand, and a new beginning.
So far, so plausible.
But, is it?
It was the Austrian psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, who came up with the idea of the archetype: hugely powerful words and images embodying the primitive urges and longings buried deep in what he called our collective unconscious. Others, less altruistic than Jung, interpreted them as mythic figures emanating from the indestructible recollections of the volk – racial memories.
It is difficult to argue that the crusader knight is not an extremely potent archetype. A racial memory that is very far from being forgotten. Even today, eight centuries after the last crusader kingdom was over-run by the armies of Islam, boys and young men (New Zealand rugby’s most important target market) still thrill to the image of the mounted Christian knight, Christ’s cross emblazoned on shield and surcoat, his flashing sword upraised in defiance of the infidel defilers of Jerusalem – the holy city.
It is an archetype that has shifted shape many times. Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur incorporates and appropriates the crusading ethos – morphing it into the chivalric ideals of the mythic King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. What else is Malory’s Quest for the Holy Grail but a potent sub-plot of the over-arching crusader narrative?
These stories are buried deep in our cultural DNA. “The Crusaders” sounded good to rugby fans because it reminded them of something. Something to do with riding forth against the enemy. Something about fighting for ultimate values. Something about finding on the field of battle more than mere personal glory. It was a name that conjured up something much bigger than a game of footy. Small wonder the team’s management chose it.
They were certainly not the first to have done so. The Romantics of the nineteenth century seized upon the chivalric ideal and its crusading spirit. The Gothic Revival, Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poetry: so utterly incongruous in the grim landscapes of industrial Britain; so wonderfully congruent with the imperialist mission the hugely productive forces of British capitalism made inevitable.
What else could the naked greed of Britain’s imperial quest for new markets be cloaked in except the crusading spirit? What else were the crusades but the first projection of European power beyond its borders since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century?
It was no accident that the French-speaking Franks referred to the crusader states they had set up in what is now Israel, Lebanon and Syria, as Outremer – Overseas. No accident, either, that as Britain extended her reach “overseas”, the founders of colonies, like the Wakefield Settlement of Christchurch, saw themselves as latter-day crusaders, carrying both the cross and the sword to bring light and redemption to a fallen world.
It wasn’t just the British who instinctively reached for the archetype of the crusading knight. The English-speaking peoples were not the only ones who, contemplating conquest and the annihilation of ideological infidels, drew forth this potent symbol from their racial memory.
The black and white crosses that adorned the wings of the Luftwaffe, and the tanks of the Wehrmacht, were modern-day renderings of the heraldic devices of the Teutonic Knights: the Germanic crusading order which, long after the Crusader kingdoms of the Middle East had fallen, did battle with the heathen peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia.
The propagandists of the Nazi Party knew exactly what they were doing when they released a poster depicting Adolf Hitler, the man who was determined to see Germany once again carve out “living space” in the East, as a Teutonic Knight in shining armour carrying a cross into battle – albeit a crooked cross.
Adolf Hitler as Teutonic Knight.
Were the franchise-holders thinking of Nazi propaganda when they chose the name “Crusaders”? Of course not. But 1996 was not that far away in time from 1991, when the armies of the West (supported by their reluctant Arab allies) had gathered on the sands of Arabia, homeland of the Prophet, to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The word “crusader” was in many Muslim mouths at the time of the First Gulf War: most particularly, in the mouth of a Saudi billionaire’s son: Osama Bin Laden.
US Marines on an Operation Desert Storm training exercise in the Saudi Desert 1991.
No discussion of the Crusades could end without at least a passing reference to the religious military order whose name still echoes in the West more than six hundred years after its last Grand Master died at the stake. (Heaping curses, it is said, on the French king who sent him there.)
“God wills it!” was the battle-cry of the Knights Templar, and to these fanatical soldiers of Christ the Muslim war-leader, Saladin, offered no quarter. It is the Knights Templar that the “crusaders” who ride out at the commencement of the Canterbury franchise’s home fixtures most resemble. (The so-called “Black Knight” who rides out alongside the “Red Knights” is clad in the livery of the Templars’ brother order, the Knights Hospitaller.)
Knights Templar and Hospitaller
Quite what those members of the Christchurch Muslim community who hail from the lands assailed by crusader armies in the eleventh and twelfth centuries make of these displays nobody, prior to the tragedy of 15 March 2019, has ever thought to inquire. Presumably the rugby authorities were entirely ignorant of the fact that the awful deeds of those armies have not been forgotten in the Arab world. Westerners are not the only people in possession of a racial memory.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, however, thought must be given to the crusader archetype. Especially since in figured with such sinister force in the thinking of the Christchurch Shooter. Like his role model, Anders Breivik, the shooter claimed to be acting on the orders of the Knights Templar. Delusional? Only if you fail to grasp the power of archetypes.
While they continue to ride forth, pausing in their wild career, to salute with uplifted arms, and uplifted swords, the Crusaders cheering fans, deep racial memories, born of the bloody excesses of Pakeha New Zealanders’ ancestors, will stir and rise to the surface. The past has a dangerous way of intruding upon the present.
Best not to summon it forth … for a game of footy.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 5 April 2019.