Tag Archives: Jews

Were jugglers once a persecuted minority group?

Is this juggler hiding in the woods to escape persecution? Or does he just love juggling in the outdoors?

Is this juggler hiding in the woods to escape persecution? Or does he just love juggling in the outdoors?

Juggling has a very ancient history. In the very least it goes back to ancient Egypt, and it is probably as old as civilization itself. It probably doesn’t predate civilization since cavemen had no calories to spare for something like juggling.

The origins of jugglers aside, were we ever persecuted? According to “A History of Juggling” at Juggling Magic:

Jugglers went through some tough times – after the fall of the Roman Empire and the arrival of the Middle Ages, jugglers were sometimes persecuted and seen as dirty scoundrels or even thought to be witches.

“Dirty scoundrels”? Sounds like we had it really rough. Not quite like the Jews or heretics, but this does sound like bigotry that could inspire violence. However, not everyone agrees that jugglers were looked down on and persected in Europe during the Middle Ages.

According to Arthur Lewbel(2002) in “Research in Juggling History

Another modern misconception is that medieval church considered juggling to be a black art or a tool of the devil. In fact, I have never seen any evidence that the medieval church ever specifically persecuted jugglers or juggling. If anything, the examples in Fletcher [3] and the appearence of jugglers in the margins of illuminated manuscripts would suggest the Church’s approval of juggling.

This directly contradicts the first quote. Indeed, the first quote cites no evidence to back its claim that jugglers were persecuted in Medievel Europe. Now it is possible that they may have been persecuted briefly in a few areas but we have no evidence of widespread, systematic persecution. If anyone ever did persecute jugglers in Europe, it probably would have been radical Calvinists or Puritans due to their very austere, artless approach to Christianity.

"Ship of Fools" - By Hieronymus Bosch, depicting a jester in painting very rich in symbolism.

“Ship of Fools” – By Hieronymus Bosch, depicting a jester in painting very rich in symbolism.

Since there is some overlap between court jesters and jugglers, let’s look at what jesters went through during the same time period. Though being a court jester is not the same thing as being a juggler, some jesters were jugglers. This profession fell in and out of fashion during the Middle Ages, largely dying out by the 19th century as nobles turned more toward music and imperialism for entertainment. While it fell out of fashion at times, and some jesters were jailed for telling bad or inappropriate jokes, they weren’t systematically persecuted.

When the radical Puritan military leader Oliver Cromwell overthrew and executed King Charles II and became King himself of Britain in all but title, his court has no use for jesters or jugglers, unlike previous rulers. There is no evidence he persecuted jugglers, though it was harder to be an actor or performer in Cromwell’s Britain due to the Puritans’ belief that the performing arts were inherently “sinful” and “pagan”, leading them to shut down just about all the theatres. In many ways the situation in Britain after the radical Puritan “Roundhead” takeover was similar to Iran after Khomeini took over in 1979. On the other hand, at least Cromwell allowed the Jews to return to Britain, having been expelled a few centuries ago on the orders of an anti-Semitic monarch.

I haven’t done a lot of research, but in more modern times, it doesn’t look like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union or any other murderous, oppressive regimes persecuted jugglers. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anything about Stalin sending jugglers off to the Gulags. As an aside, if being bigoted against jugglers was more widespread, what would these bigots be called? “Anti-jugglites”? “Anti-jugglerites”?

So no, there isn’t any reliable evidence that jugglers were persecuted. If we were, would you pity us?

Doukhobor vegetarianism

Doukhobor women pulling plough. Source: Wikipedia

Doukhobor women pulling plough. Source: Wikipedia

As a vegetarian and history buff, I am fascinated by the history of vegetarianism and why certain groups and individuals chose a vegetarian lifestyle. Vegetarianism has very ancient roots, especially in India where observant Jains, Buddhists, and Hindus all generally practice vegetarianism, with the Jains being the most strict about it.

Various other religions and mystical sects outside of India practice vegetarianism, but they are generally much smaller in number and not as well known. Seventh Day Adventism is a protestant Christian denomination that advocates a vegetarian diet, though not all of them follow it. Many Christians from various sects are vegetarian, but for individual spiritual, ethical or health reasons, not because their church advocates it. I’ve also met many Jewish vegetarians over the years.

Among the more obscure Christian sects that practice vegetarianism are the Doukhobors(Духоборы). They split off from the Russian Orthodox Church several centuries ago due to their pacifism, anti-authoritarianism, non-belief in churches, priests or most religious rituals, and were persecuted by the Russian authorities as a result, when they weren’t too busy persecuting Jews I suppose. Their beliefs make them similar to Mennonites in many ways, and they were also vaguely similar to early hippies, but without the drugs, among many other differences.

A large portion of them eventually emigrated, with the help of Leo Tolstoy(who had a lot in common with the Doukhobors) and Quaker sympathizers, to the welcoming prairie regions of Canada, where they practiced communal farming and by the late 19th century, became vegetarians. They also forbid alcohol and smoking. Sounds like I would almost fit right in! Although they were mostly left alone, they did occasionally have problems with the Canadian authorities.

So why are Doukhobors vegetarians? According to Jim Popoff, a Doukhobor representative:

In striving to attain their expressed basic goal of “Toil and Peaceful Life,” the Doukhobors touched upon the very essence of the Doukhobor life-concept, which is a state of universal love for all of God’s creation. Thus, they found they could no longer participate in any form of violence, especially the taking of a human life, for any reason. This led, of course, to their decisive renunciation of militarism and the Burning of Arms in 1895 – historic events being honoured during this year’s centennial

It also led to their realization that if they could not take the life of a fellow human being, neither could they kill any other of God’s living creatures. Since animals had to be killed before they could be eaten, the Doukhobors resolved to stop using the flesh of animals for food. This step was taken even before the dramatic events of 1895, by which time they had already become strict vegetarians. Thus, their vegetarianism had an ethical origin, but Doukhobors soon realized that there were also distinct health benefits to a vegetarian diet, especially when it consisted of simple, unrefined, and naturally grown foods. Peter Lordly Verigin frequently counselled his followers about various healthful dietary practices. Doukhobors who grew up in the wholesome lifestyle conditions of those times became living proof of these benefits in the forthcoming decades, with their sustained vitality and remarkable longevity.

In other words, it was the next logical step in their spiritual/cultural evolution as a religious community. It also helped that one of their leaders was very health-conscious.

While the descendants of the Doukhobors have largely moved on from the self-sufficient, communal lifestyle their ancestors came to Canada to practice, at least a few still practice vegetarianism and some are still farmers. As they have assimilated into Canadian society, the Russian language has slowly disappeared, but a few are doing what they can to keep it and other Russian customs alive.