Pagans, Social Media and Sanitized Heroes

(For sure, this is no chronicle of Heroes and Heroines, be it action heroes, rescue heroes, firemen heroes, conquering heroes, rebel heroes or David Bowie’s best ever cut — Heroes.)


On a recent trip through the extraordinarily gorgeous region of Chianti, I struck up a conversation with three Swedish women who were travelling together. Perhaps in their late sixties or early seventies they seemed like retired teachers. They were keen to have a resonating conversation, always huddled together, listening to each other, their eyes sparkling with the energy from the cellars they had visited in the past hours. They held themselves quite well, considering that it was near the end of the day and they had been to quite a few wineries. I had to bring up the way the Swedes were treating Julian Assange. They were taken aback and expressed complete disagreement with my views, while being very gentle and kind.

“I hope he is not a hero for you?

“No” I said, “I have a hard time with all heroes.”

According to them, it did not matter who Julian Assange was and what a great hero he was and what he had done; the fact that two women had independently pressed charges against him, required that he be questioned in Sweden. “That’s all, nothing much else. If he comes to Sweden, he will be treated according to the law.” I was quite surprised by their confidence in the absolute independence of the Swedish judiciary. I told them how the initial charges were actually dropped, because it was established that the sex was consensual and then one of them was revived and that was the basis of the Swedish warrant for questioning.  I bleated hopelessly about how the US was definitely planning to extradite him and how they continued to jail Bradley Manning without charges for over 190 days. I tried to convince them that the trip to Sweden was a short stop over on the way to the US.  They were taken aback and I reminded them that the Swedish government had refused to give any assurance to the Ecuadorian government (that had given him political asylum eventually) that he would not be extradited.

Bradley Edward Manning is a United States Army soldier who was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of having passed classified material to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks

“We don’t think it is possible in Sweden. But you know the charge is serious.” They looked at each other as if they were in a church pew, where righteousness flowed spontaneously.

“Did you know that Karl Rove was advising the Swedish Government on this issue?”

“Who is Karl Rove?”

“He was George Bush’s key advisor and the man along with Cheney and others who planned the war on Iraq based on WMDs that did not exist.” ( For montrealserai readers–

Frustrated as I was, as to where to start to even convince them about “the larger issues,” I could sense that they had already won in their minds. We had not even discussed the cold-blooded killing of the Reuters reporters –the helicopter gunship video that Wikileaks had released and for which Obama, Clinton and a whole host of others had openly convicted Assange without trial. Mike Huckabee, a former Republican Presidential aspirant, had asked for Assange’s assassination.

Then one of them came closer to me and said “Did you know that he belongs to a cult? His mother and him.” I was stunned. I had not even brought up the political issue of the US pursuing unlimited impunity for all its unilateral actions anywhere in the world and they had clubbed me on the head with some information that I had never heard of. It seems in Sweden it is widely known that Assange belonged to a cult!

“It is on You Tube,” One of them whispered.

I left the winery, resigned that it was futile on my part to progress anywhere with these ladies.  I came back to my hotel room to look up “Assange and cults.”

I could not find anything for a while. Eventually, there was one. An openly right-wing evangelist channel had declared in a You Tube video that Assange’s father belonged to a cult that preyed on families to deliver their young children to the cult. Further browsing and I found out that the poor boy had gone underground, away from his father at a very early age.  He did not meet his father again till he was twenty-five. A person, who had been called a “hero” by millions around the world, had been hung and quartered by a retaliatory measure distributed expertly and with innuendo, to tar his upbringing and therefore his psychological state of mind. An association with a cult is immediately punitive.  Several hundred thousand hits had already been registered and “no wonder he is so strange…” type comments were rampant.

Assange’s political vision and his computer skills had been sullied by bringing up his parental history.  To fight that would take a lot out of me in this day and age– where conspiracy buffs and clever wordsmiths could make a monster out of anyone in a few nanoseconds, over social media.  Yes, he had had a troubled childhood, perhaps. He had moved around with his mother and had reportedly been in and out of 35 schools. His biological father disappeared and was actually involved in a cult. His mother, a theatre person, had also dilly-dallied with various groups on the fringe. But, Assange (the name is derived from the Cantonese name Ah Sang) struck out on his own very early, never associated with any cult as such—becoming a computer hacker at an early age, probing into the operations of large corporations. In fact the Canadian Telecom giant Nortel was one of his first hits. In 2008, Assange published an article entitled “The Hidden Curse of Thomas Paine”, in which he wrote,

“What does it mean when only those facts about the world with economic powers behind them can be heard, when the truth lays(sic) naked before the world and no one will be the first to speak without payment or subsidy?”

I never considered Julian Assange a hero. For that matter, I never contemplated looking up at a hero with an unblemished record, no warts, no chancres and no affiliations to strange organizations. There is not a single person in the modern world, who has had the label of hero or heroine assigned to them and also had never to deal with some strange incident, perhaps some salacious involvement in their youthful years, some bizarre act of illegality, a brazen act of impropriety or very simply an act of weakness or contradictory behaviour and therefore could not measure up to the standards of hordes of puritanical storm troopers hiding behind their own inconsequentiality.

To attempt to counter these ladies, would have been like attempting to establish that Gandhi, a hero to many people around the world, was also quite crafty, manipulative and at times a practitioner of weird rituals- something that is increasingly clear to many people, but resolutely denied by a majority of Indians. In the same sense, the notion that the Prophet Muhammad or Jesus Christ did not have their moments of temptation would be ridiculous to uphold. Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prize winner from India in Literature, was a towering personality in terms of his thought processes, at a period in time when secular concepts, the notion of radical humanism, the ideas about equity, fairness and social progress and against imperial wars was barely beginning to emerge. But he also had his moments when he fumbled in his personal life. Or was distracted by women, or had to deal with attraction at very close quarters. For puritans of an imbecilic variety, he may have been even a transgressor who managed to tuck away his frustrations in towering metaphoric constructions. Diminutive as she is, Arundhuti Roy is a towering personality whose boldness, courage and resolve in the face of unsavory ultranationalist right-wingers and neurotic doctrinaire left-wingers has been heartwarming. Does she have no “skeletons”? And what, by the way, are skeletons?

In fact, those who look for such a personality in their lives are demonstrably fragile creatures. Fools worship heroes. In this day and age of social media blitzkrieg-ing, in order to be a hero one must be doused in Dettol and sanitized daily in Tulsi (“Holy Basil”) leaves to get a high caste accreditation towards hero-dom.

It was easier then……

In Pagan times there were heroes and there were plebeians. Heroes towered over the ordinary with their brain power, with their thinking abilities, with their pronouncements with their profound skills in debating, in making explanations about nature and society. There was no education system, there was no social media and there was no intellectual discourse. There were the nobles and the chattel. The nobles expounded amongst themselves. The chattel grew corn. The commons looked up at them, in awe, deprived of any intellectual succor—they believed what flowed from their mouths and hands and feet were godlike. And godlike is what heroes and heroines were all about. They performed “miracles” and conducted magic-such were their extraordinary skills. Their tales were spread and their subjects were wonderstruck.

There was no Facebook, no Twitter to undermine the warts in their heels. They stood supreme and beautiful, chaste and untouchable-wings on their heels instead. There was no social media, not even word of mouth, except the talent of oral story tellers, griots to spread the word about the deeds or misdeeds of exemplary characters. As Christianity came along, many of the Heroes and Heroines from pre-Christianity were assigned various diseases, social and physical, from syphilis and gonorrhea to wizardry, witchcraft, bestiality, pedophilia, and of course the terrible disease of opposing illegal occupation, domination and imperial plunder—better known as siding with the underdogs.

If Christianity could look itself in the mirror, its murderous campaigns against “heroes and heroines” of a Pagan heritage, would be obvious. But, then it is Judeo-Christianity that has written the history of Western Civilization. And Judeo-Christianity will never take any opposition to its edicts written in either the old or the New Testament, kindly.

Here is a short list I culled from the net, which covers only last names in A and B, all after the advent of  Apostolic teachings, of the slayings of Pagan leaders.

Adamson, Francis: executed at Durham, England, in 1652
Albano, Peter of: died in prison circa 1310
Allen, Joan: hanged at the Old Bailey, London, England, in 1650
Allen, Jonet: burned in Scotland in 1661
Amalaric, Madeline: burned in France in mid-1500’s
Ancker, (first name unknown): beheaded at Wurzburg, Germany, 1628-1629
Andrius, Barthelemy: burned at Carcassonne, France in 1330
Andrius, Jean: burned at Carcassonne, France in 1330
Andrius, Phillippe: burned at Carcassonne, France in 1330
d’Arc, Joan: burned at Rouen, France, on 30 May, 1431 (note: the witchcraft charge in this case was -implied- and not specific)
Ashby, Anne: hanged at Maidstone, England, in July, 1652
Askew, Anne: burned for witchcraft 1546
Audibert, Etienne: condemned for witchcraft in France, on 20 March 1619
Aupetit, Pierre: burned at Bordeaux, France, in 1598

Babel, Zuickel: beheaded at Wurzburg, Germany, 1628-1629
Babel, (first name unknown): beheaded at Wurzburg, Germany, 1628-1629
Baker, Anne: executed in Leicester, England, in 1619
Balcoin, Marie: burned in the reign of Henry IV of France
Balfour, Alison: burned at Edinburgh, Scotland, on 16 December, 1594
Bannach, (husband) (first name unknown): beheaded at Wurzburg, Germany, 1628-1629
Bannach, (wife) (first name unknown): beheaded at Wurzburg, Germany, 1628-1629
Barber, Mary: executed in Northhampton, England, on 22 July, 1612
Barker, Janet: burned in Scotland in 1643
Baroni, Catterina: beheaded and burned at Castelnovo, Italy, on 14 April, 1647
Boulle, Thomas: burned alive at Rouen, France, on 21 August, 1647
Bowman, Janet: burned in Scotland in 1572
Bragadini, Mark Antony: beheaded in Italy in the 1500’s
Brickmann, (first name unknown) beheaded at Wurzburg, Germany, 1628-1629
Brose, Elizabeth: tortured to death in the castle of Gommern, Germany, on 4 November, 1660
Brown, Janet: burned in Scotland in 1643
Browne, Agnes: executed in Northhampton, England, on 22 July, 1612
Browne, Joan: executed in Northhampton, England, on 22 July, 1612
Browne, Mary: hanged at Maidstone, England, in July, 1652
Brooks, Jane: hanged in England on 26 March, 1658
Brugh, John: burned in Scotland in 1643
Buckh, Appollonia: burned at Waldsee, Germany, in 1581
Bugler, (first name unknown): beheaded at Wurzburg, Germany, 1628-1629
Bulcock, John: executed in Lancaster, England, in 1612
Bulcock, Jane: executed in Lancaster, England, in 1612
Bull, Edmund: hanged at Taunton, England, in 1631
Bulmer, Matthew: hanged at Newcastle, England, in 1649
Burroughs, George: executed at Salem, New England, on 19 August, 1692
Bursten-Binderin, (first name unknown) beheaded at Wurzburg, Germany, 1628-1629

Now this list goes on for pages and I have only extracted A and B. By the time Christianity was done with its campaigns against polytheism and ancestor worship, (and run through all the alphabets) it found it expedient to launch “discoveries of new worlds.” The hunt for spices, minerals and new lands and the holocaust against indigenous people started and out of this campaign came again a crop of “heroes”, but once again butchered and hung by the imperial powers.

The British Empire and heroes…

Sidhu, Kanu were legendary Indian Santhal tribal heroes who fought against the British Empire and mobilized over 30,000 tribal warriors. They were eventually killed by the British. Charles Dickens wrote about their heroism- “It was not war; they did not understand yielding.” (LSSO Malley, Bengal District Gazetteers)

Statues of Sidhu and Kanu in India

Further on, Charles Dickens in Household Words wrote-

“There seems also to be a sentiment of honour among them (Santals); for it is said that they use poisoned arrows in hunting, but never against their foes. If this be the case – and we hear nothing of the poisoned arrows in the recent conflicts – they are infinitely more respectable than our civilised enemy the Russians, who would most likely consider such forbearance as foolish, and declare that is not war.”

“Discovery” by Cristoforo Colombo and heroes..

And then there were the legendary heroes — Cochise, Crazy Horse, Geronimo; Native American heroes who fought against the White settlers of Europe.

Crazy Horse, Sioux warrior, did not like to be photographed, so a Mormon priest made this sketch years later after his killing at the age of 33. (

Geronimo, the legendary Apache Chief reportedly said these last words to his nephew “I should never have surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

And finally!

We all know this man. His heroism and his failures –are a part of his myth.

All of these folks had no penchant for being heroes, nor did they hide their warts.

I started out, determined not to start listing heroes. I think my intention remains the same. In an age where religious and moralist scrutiny reigns, especially after the advent of Christianity and the forced indoctrination against polytheism, hero worship has been carefully engendered and assigned to figures who are cleansed and baptized of all sinfulness. In FB times, such is hardly possible.

Rana Bose is an engineer, playwright and author.