Anglo-Saxon England at the time of King Alfred’s reign was the epitome of a country paralysed by fear. The constant battles with the Pagan Danes meant that England was not only losing men who were fighters but also losing valuable farmers, which in turn had a detrimental effect on the country’s ability to sustain itself as a thriving nation.
King Alfred’s biographer, and also his friend, Asser, writes that in the spring of 871 when Alfred was crowned “he did not think that he alone could ever withstand such great harshness from the pagans unless strengthened by divine help, since he had already sustained great losses of many men while his brothers were alive.”
For much of Alfred’s reign he was doing battle with the heathen Viking King Guthrum, yet England in this period, despite being Christianised, still had many pagan tendencies. Although Alfred was a Christian King who ultimately converted a pagan ruler such as Guthrum to Christianity through the ritual of Baptism at his final defeat, Alfred did commit a pagan act of vengeance against his defeated opponent by such a conversion.
Denny Bradbury’s latest novel, Borvo, due for release in July, draws upon a combination of Christianity, represented by King Alfred himself, and Paganism represented by the young healer boy who utilises the pagan rituals of healing through nature. Just as Alfred himself lived for a time as a peasant in the marshes of Athelney , when he was in hiding from the Danes – a humbled and appreciative King living with his wife and children alongside his own people – so too in Borvo does the King form a friendship with a young boy of no social standing but remarkable skill and eventual vital necessity to the King.
When Alfred came to the throne of Wesssex as a young boy aged twenty one, his kingdom lay in ruins. Pagan Vikings, led by Guthrum, had destroyed the country’s crop, torn down and looted churches and monasteries and burned whole towns to the ground. Through Alfred’s sheer determination, applied knowledge and skill, and his unwavering faith in God, he began to slowly rebuild his kingdom for his people, making it his mission to rescue and restore the culture of England that the Pagans had all but destroyed. Alfred not only trained and taught the next generation to stand firm in their belief in the Christian faith, resisting what he saw to be the influences of paganism such as fame, fate and vengeance, he also worked extremely hard to promote and grow a cultural vision steeped in Christianity through many mediums such as art, literature and education, teaching men how to read and creating his own written law code.
His time spent in hiding, learning to live like one of his own people, meant he developed a strong bond with those of humble origins who later helped him to fight for, and reclaim, his crown.
In Denny Bradbury’s “A Denagerie Of Poems” there is a poem entitled “Heathland” where she writes:
“Heathland calls and pulls my heart,
This is not where I made my start,
I came to view on journey wild,
And found my place, as though a child.”
As in Borvo, and during the reign of King Alfred, the land and those who worked the land were vital in sustaining the country’s growth. Denny explores this theme by mixing in both the elements of Paganism and Christianity at a time of great change and unrest, illustrating the plight of a pagan folk healer in the wake of Christian dominance and how common ground can be found between the two.
To read more about Paganism versus Christianity, please click here.
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