Today at Going Medieval HQ we are excited to have a guest blog by kick-ass art historian working on medieval medical visual culture, and the other half of Medieval Dick Twitter, Dr Sara Öberg-Strådal. Follow her on Twitter for excellent meme action, updates about growing your own medieval pigment garden, and generally correct opinions.
If you’re blessed enough to not have heard about QAnon. Congratulations. You should leave this post right now and go and do something nice for yourself.
QAnon is a super strange radical internet cult that believes that Donald Trump is a divine saviour who is working against the Deep State to save America. Every other day there is a new coded message, a so-called “Q Drop”, predicting mass arrests and explaining that MS13 are bad because they are funded and run by Democrats. IDK. At best it is borderline incomprehensible, and at worst it is also super racist. Followers of Q will interpret any aspect of Trump’s presentation and twitter presence (his back-combed hair signified coming mass arrests) and personal biography (see the fairly fringe belief that Trump can time travel and did so to get his uncle to write some shitty children’s books to predict his rise to power).
Don’t worry though, the movement is also imbued with the weirdo apocalypticism and eschatological thinking that permeates American evangelical Christianity. They believe that Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Jay-Z, and Marina Abramovic take part in the trafficking and torture of children to consume their adrenochrome (a chemical compound that exists) to maintain their youthful appearance (a result of adrenochrome which does not). This obviously very closely echoes the blood libel allegations, which this blog has talked about before, that would precede persecution, murder and expulsion of Jewish people from European towns and regions throughout the later medieval period. (The TL/DR of blood libel is that if a gentile kid went missing, medieval people would accuse the local Jewish population of killing said child in an unholy mass and consuming its flesh and blood. As you do.) This form of anti-Semitism is one of the most persistent Western cultural phenomena, so I am not surprised that it pops up here as well (just disappointed).
But there is another way in which QAnon has taken a very medieval concept and ran with it in the dumbest possible way.
Medieval conceptions of knowledge are different from our modern ones (obvs). Medieval thinkers and scientists operated under a different system and with a different set of intellectual dogma. I could list all the things that were understood or invented during this one-thousand-year period (Earth was round! ‘Retrograde’ motion of Mercury was observed! Surgeons could cure cataracts!) but I’m not going to because this is about a medieval concept that has been overhauled and largely forgotten in modern discourse.
Medieval people believed that the world was divinely ordered. Thus, through the close study of nature, it was possible to begin to comprehend The Divine. St Augustine, Church father and man-crush of pretty much every medieval thinker, calls Nature a ‘handmaiden’ for divine contemplation. Therefore, the study of numbers, also known as Numerology was A Big Deal. Often drawing of Pythagorean or pseudo-Pythagorean (e.g. when medieval or classical authors would pretend they were Pythagoras to give their ideas more authority) writings, medieval scholars would extrapolate on the importance of different numbers and their correlation with past and future events.
For medieval people, all numbers were imbued with meaning and significance. For example, the number three stood for the Holy Trinity; four was the cardinal directions and the elements; and nine is the number of heavenly choirs. These are just a few examples – many different numbers were important to medieval scholars, because they provided clues to the true nature and will of an all-knowing, all-powerful God. For medieval thinkers, the world was a system where all information and facts originated from the same divine source and striving for knowledge was understood as recovery of knowledge lost after the fall of man, so this system makes sense. That is why the greatest thinkers of these periods relied so heavily on the scholars that went before them, on the received knowledge handed down from earlier generations. Scientific exploration served to uncover the mysteries of God and to reconnect humans with the divine knowledge they had lost after being kicked TF out of Eden.
Because God was in everything, and the world was ordered according to his wishes and demands, focusing intently on Scripture and on the texts produced by Church Fathers makes a lot of sense. QAnon, on the other hand, is the absolute dumbest people alive trying to apply this way of thinking to memes.
Let me give you some examples. Apologies in advance, you will feel more stupid having read this.
In this tweet for example, the astute QAnon commentator is ‘demonstrating’ that the Q Drop on the right (arguing that Barack Obama’s parents studied Russian because they were Soviet Agents during the Cold War) has been confirmed in a tweet by Trump about Meghan Markle because he used the word ‘Cold’ and posted it at 8:44.
Irenaeus, the second century Greek Bishop, calculated the Number of the Beast based on the Greek word Lateinos. By adding all the numerical values attached to each letter he got the number 666.
This is the calculation: “L” being 30 + “a” being 1 + “t” being 300 + “e” being 5 + “i” being 10 + “n” being 50 + “o” being 70 + “s” being 200 = 666.
In his text, Against Heresies, where this calculation occurs he also backs this claim up with references to scripture and other ancient sources!
Similarly, this intrepid QAnon interpreter wants us to remember that Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet, so Julian Assange being indicted on 17 counts is a significant message?
Another example of the fucking batshit crazy nonsense these people get up to can be seen in the QClock:
This is some Nostradamus-type bullshit where avid Q-followers look at this graphic-design-is-my-passion-jpg, and then mine Trump’s twitter to find evidence that all Things That Happen are part of a complex battle against the Deep State and that a fragile 71-year old woman is literally eating children.
In this one regard, QAnon, the weakest minds of a generation, are operating within the same closed intellectual ecosystem as medieval numerologists, they believe that the truth can be found in a particular text filled with clues to be uncovered. But, whereas medieval thinkers were using logic and laying the groundwork for modern scientific inquiry, QAnon followers believe that they are finding the hidden meanings behind the nonsense tweets randomly generated by a very angry racist and a confusing infographic.
All of this is, of course, a bunch of disturbing nonsense, but it’s also interesting because the QAnon fools are proving both modern conceptions of knowledge, wherein we are “discovering” and learning more as a group, and medieval people, who think we are recovering knowledge to get back to a divine whole at the same time. No one is learning anything from this at all, except maybe that there are limits to your family’s patience. Good luck to all involved.
For more on weird right wing stuff and the medieval period, see:
On Mike Pence, Holocaust Memorial Day, and Christian interpretations of Jewish utility
On Jerusalem and the Apocalypse, or, why you should be deeply unsettled right now
Keep the word ‘Judeo’ out of your racist mouth Nigel Farage
On power and entitlement to the bodies of lower-status women, or, the thing that IS actually medieval about Trump
On why the misuse of the word ‘medieval’ is a bad thing – part of an on-going series
The medieval case for remain, or fuck Brexit