Zeitgeist of the Dark Ages
The Mood and Spirit of the Times
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
• The retreating Roman Empire left behind vast monuments
to their wondrous civilization, now overrun with weeds
and collapsing in ruin.*
• In Britain, the stark difference between the fallen Roman
world and the world of the “barbarians” was most
pronounced, due to the relative isolation of the islands, and
the relative late-coming of the invading Roman army.
• When the Roman soldiers and statesmen disembark, they
take the spirit of civilization with them, leaving behind the
decaying mortality of it: Carved words no one can
understand; Buildings and monuments no one has the
engineering skills to repair or build; Technological tools
and knowledge no one any longer can access.
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
Among the remnants of the Roman world rises the mist of
the Dark Age spirit:
• Intense and mystical faith – not entirely Christian! The
unwritten stories of the Tuatha de Danann, Irish Celtic
gods, were alive and well, along with the Celtic religion.
Tuatha de Danann, means “people of the goddess Danu.”
The Druids are the Celtic cast of priests. The religion
worships Danu and other important female goddesses, who
are related to the earth, water, and vegetation.
• The Virgin Mary becomes an important religious figure to
replace the worship of this goddess, while Roman saints
replace other pagan figures. Women become strong
symbols of peace, purity, family, redemption, and fertility.
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
Early Christianity itself had been
contending orthodoxy, and prior to
the time of St. Augustine, in the 4th
century, a male-female duality of
God was taught by the Gnostics. In
1945, near the town of Nag
Hammadi in Egypt, a series of
ancient texts were discovered: a set
of religious writings of early
Christianity, that were later deemed
heretical. Perhaps a bit of this mode
of Christianity filtered through
Europe, as pagan religions melded
with Christianity.
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
• Even before Christianity
arrives, there had been a
melding of religions, including
the Mithraic faith, possibly
brought by Roman soldiers
from Persia. For example, there
is a temple to Mithra dating
from Roman times in central
London. (Jessie Weston’s From
Ritual to Romance explores
these sources.) *
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
• You can see clear evidence of
this in the city of Bath, Aqua
Sulis. Sulis is the Celtic god to
the thermal waters, but when
the temple was rebuilt to
appease the locals, after the
Boudicca rebellion, it was
renamed Sulis Minerva,
combining both Celtic and
Roman deities.
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
• Later, Christian churches are
built with symbols of Celtic
faith, including The Green Man
and winding sea serpents,
carved as gargoyles. (Rosslyn
Chapel in Scotland.)
• In literature, there is a strong
influence of Latin epics and
myths, especially after these are
translated into Middle English.
And, also, of Norse or
Germanic sagas with Viking
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
• There is a “Christianization” of many of these myths, as
the influence of Christianity grows in Britain. (Christmas
and Halloween, for example, and older holidays, such as
Lammastide. The Arthur romances themselves are stories
about the shift from pagan to Christian religion.)*
• Persecution of pagans, however, begins with Charlemagne,
and continues through the Renaissance. It comes to the
United States, in Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 17th
century! **
• The fallen ruins of the mighty kingdom lend proof to the
transience of human endeavors. There is a very real
“millennium madness” and focus on the apocalypse –
Christian or Norse – around the turn of the millennium.
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
• The world is viewed as decayed, corrupted, and awaiting
death. The Vikings of course bring the notion of this final
destruction in the Norse mythology, with a real humdinger
of an apocalypse: Ragnarok. Although a purified earth
eventually returns, it will not include your soul. For the
most part, there is no happy haven for the dead. Even
Valhalla will be destroyed at Ragnarok. *
• The Christ and the mythological Assyrian phoenix, known
in the medieval world courtesy of Ovid, both come to
represent a rising from the ashes, to a new civilization. It is
perhaps this appeal of Christianity, as well as its
adaptability, that lends to its growth and spread through
Europe during this time.
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
• There is REAL death: Vulnerability to disease, starvation,
attacking hordes of Vikings or other tribal folks, Welsh,
Irish, Scots, and Picts. There is a lack of central
government for protection, and rule by war lord. Britain
was primitive during this time. Christianity’s message of
resurrection, peace and forgiveness, and reward for
suffering, is…well, extremely appealing in this world!
• The message of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-10) is very
powerful, as is the notion that sins can be purged.*
• Later, Christian virtues are encouraged: Fortitude, Justice,
Temperance, Prudence, Faith, Hope and Charity, as these
lead to redemption and a reward in the afterlife. There
emerges a strong belief in Heaven and Hell.
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
• The notion of fate as a controlling force is predominant in
this time. This is part of the melding of other religions,
which dictate predetermination, but also a result of the
general feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability.
• Generally, vulnerability does lead to the belief in fate, and
a willingness to yield control over life to supernatural
forces. It is a great comfort to feel you don’t need to
control everything, and that your role in life is set, and that
the chain of being is solid and inescapable.
• The people await a mighty king, who will protect them and
unite them, and give them prosperity. This fits well into the
teachings of Christianity, and provides a scaffold for the
creation of the mythical king, Arthur.
Dark Age Voice
from 450-1066 C.E.
• The Arthur stories – and much of literature from the Dark
Ages, represents the struggle of a world emerging from a
fallen civilization, rebuilding itself and redefining itself.
This struggle is evident in the shift from pagan faith and
practices, to Christian faith and practices.
• As the middle ages progresses, the mood of the literature
shifts tremendously: It’s more hopeful, more joyous, more
prosperous, more humorous, and begins to show signs of
humanism and self-determination.
• The power of a strong civilization creates the background
for a new zeitgeist, called the Renaissance.

Zeitgeist of the Middle Ages