Rebellion, Tradition, and Complex Cultural Systems

Mark Sedgwick
Aarhus University

A new article by Kennet Granholm on "Heathen Influences in Black Metal and Neofolk Music" (its subtitle), with the title "Sons of Northern Darkness," has just been published in Numen 58, no 4 (2011), pp. 514-544. The article is about Black Metal and Neofolk rather than Traditionalism, but does cover Traditionalism, and provides an interesting answer to the question of the relationship between Traditionalism and these two music scenes.

The argument is that we should think of Black Metal and Neofolk not just as music scenes, but as "complex cultural systems." Otherwise, it is hard to explain why two scenes that are so different in musical terms should partly overlap. The article traces in detail the development of the "esoteric" content of these scenes (or systems). Rock music is inherently rebellious, it argues. This is why Black Sabbath toyed with Satanism in the 1970s. When Satanism lost its power to shock, musicians moved on and went deeper, ending in some cases in what might be called classic heathenism, and in other cases in "Radical Traditionalist" heathenism. The article also charts a parallel process for Neofolk.

So, some might say: it's just posing, using Traditionalism (and/or heathenism) to very un-Traditional ends. Not so, in effect replies Granholm. Firstly, something either is or is not part of a cultural system, and if it is, it doesn't matter how and why it got there. Secondly, even if the root of the interest in Traditionalism (and/or heathenism) is rebellion, something similar is also true for esotericism as a whole. Rebellion against, or rejection of, the modern world is actually an integral aspect of all esotericism. And:

The key characteristic of Traditionalism, as well as the later Radical Traditionalist movement, is the rejection of dominant Western cultural and societal values and norms. Instead, the attention is shifted away from the modern West, and to what is considered to be more authentic culture and uncorrupted expressions of eternal wisdom. While the common “tradition” of choice for the original Traditionalist school was mystical expressions of Islam, mainly Sufism, later developments of Traditionalism — in particular Radical Traditionalism — have often turned to European pre-Christian traditions. (537-38).

I am not 100% certain that this is the last word on the subject, but I think we are getting there. And I suspect this argument helps explain more than the music scenes that are its topic. It could also perhaps be developed to cover the political: the young Evola of the 1930s, the Evolians of the 1970s, and even parts of today's New Right.

© 2011 Traditionalists

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