Teutonic Order

Teutonics

In terms of fame the Teutonic order of Knights tend to come third after the Templars and the Hospitallers.  Certainly in the Crusades of the Holy Lands they maintained only a modest presence.

The key focus for the Teutonics was the pagan tribes of the Baltic in the areas now populated by Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Russians and Finns.  Their mission was to bring these peoples to God and they did this at the point of a lance.

Understandably the Baltic tribes did not just lie down and accept their fate.  The Northern Crusades were long, drawn out, bitter affairs.  Progress was measured in yards.  Campaigning was possible in the normal Spring/Summer season when grass was available to feed horses.  In a quirk of climate much of the fighting took place in the winter.  Frozen rivers and lakes in this area of the world make veritable highways through the dense forest and scrub.

So it was that in the winter of 1336 a force of Teutonic Knights besieged the Samotigian hill fort of Pilénai.  Accounts hold it that the defenders of the fort alone numbered 4,000 not counting women and children.  The Teutonic Knights must have numbered many thousands because the inhabitants of Pilénai realised that they could not defend themselves from the besieging army.

In a grand gesture of defiance the Lithuanians set fire to their own fort to deny it to the Crusaders.  Then, on this day, Feb 25th 1336, they committed what is the largest mass suicide in history.

 

A Song of Suicide; by Robert William Service

Deeming that I were better dead,
“How shall I kill myself?” I said.
Thus mooning by the river Seine
I sought extinction without pain,
When on a bridge I saw a flash
Of lingerie and heard a splash . . .
So as I am a swimmer stout
I plunged and pulled the poor wretch out.

The female that I saved? Ah yes,
To yield the Morgue of one corpse the less,
Apart from all heroic action,
Gave me a moral satisfaction.
was she an old and withered hag,
Too tired of life to long to lag?
Ah no, she was so young and fair
I fell in love with her right there.

And when she took me to her attic
Her gratitude was most emphatic.
A sweet and simple girl she proved,
Distraught because the man she loved
In battle his life-blood had shed . . .
So I, too, told her of my dead,
The girl who in a garret grey
Had coughed and coughed her life away.

Thus as we sought our griefs to smother,
With kisses we consoled each other . . .
And there’s the ending of my story;
It wasn’t grim, it wasn’t gory.
For comforted were hearts forlorn,
And from black sorrow joy was born:
So may our dead dears be forgiving,
And bless the rapture of the living.

 

Self-inflicted death

waiting

Warning:  if you have suffered a bereavement by train, or a suicide in your family, don’t read any further.

So, last Friday I left work to get home for the weekend and ended up sitting for hours on the train.  I was about 4 hours late getting home.  And all because of a “fatality” on the line.  It got me thinking about how we choose to die.

Suicide is always an option for most of us.  But it can’t be an easy option.  How hard must it be to make that final push to meet the end: To leap off the cliff, to jump in front of the train, to pull the trigger, or kick over the stool?

People who suffer from depression would probably commit suicide if it just came along while you were sitting there moping around.  But suicide is an active act.  You have to decide to do something about it, make plans, and actually carry them out.  What are the impacts of this very final act?

There is the grief we leave behind.  Family and friends deprived of our presence, and always wondering if there was something they could have done or said to have made a difference in our lives, to have made us want to live on.  Parents, spouses, siblings and children left with a gaping hole in their lives, in their hearts.  Do suicides take their lives for purely personal reasons, or are there some who are making a statement?  “Look what you made me do!”  Those are pretty dreadful last words to close an argument.

Then there is the train driver involved in the collision, or the poor person who finds the body at the foot of the cliff, or dangling from the rafters.  Do those who take their lives also take account of the trauma they leave in the lives of others?

Are there those who want to go out with a bang, get on the front page, maybe take along some innocent bystanders?  What is the motivation of the “school shooter” who wants company on their journey into the great unknown?

Is a self-inflicted death a cowards way to escape from life, or a final act of bravery?

Send your answers to these questions on a postcard to “Great Philosophical Questions of Life, PO Box 42, The Great Beyond, Hereafter.”   The winner will receive a copy of both of our ever popular publications  “101 ways to kill yourself” and “Killing yourself better:  Second time around”.

If you find any of this material upsetting, and you would like to talk to someone try http://www.samaritans.org/

Finally, if after all of this you still find the need to throw yourself in front of a train, can I ask you to consider the East Coast line?  And if it simply MUST be the Dublin-Cork line, how about midday on a Wednesday?

Let me die a youngman’s death; by Roger McGough

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides

Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death