Holy Orders (poem)



In my first year at University I remember seeing a slideshow of northern European architecture. The lecturer commented that the gargoyles on top of the churches were actually totems of the older gods who were there just in case this new one didn’t work out. Indeed the further north you went into Europe during the Middle Ages (and even later) the more Christianity was a thin veneer over the older faiths. This poem explores this. The narrator is a young priest heading north…



Holy Orders



at first I did not see the way

they moved their mouths

during mass, as though

they didn’t know the words


their vulgar tongues

unable to grapple the



as if behind the prayers & chants

there was worship of something





sent here to these northern wastes

the vineyards & cypresses

giving way to tall angular trees

& snow


when I saw the church

they were there –

the old gods

grinning down




I see them process

out of the village

to worship one of their

wild-wood demons


they beckon to follow


I stay in my church

lose myself

in holy scripture




I imagine them

copulating over

some profane altar


the word of God

is not strong enough



Lord lead them from the Abyss!




a pounding comes at the church doors

until they explode

& a dark bestial god

enters my saviour’s house


I grasp the brass cross

but the image of my dear lord

does not offer sanctuary

the dark one comes for me…


I awake pouring with sweat

the wind whistling

through the walls


I put on my woolen robes & pray

until the dawn




I’m sailing toward

an unknown


the edge of the world




Joanne Fisher



This poem first appeared on this blog in November 2017.

Originally published in JAAM.



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©2019 Joanne Fisher





8 thoughts on “Holy Orders (poem)

  1. Like this. smacks of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History in which he tells of the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England… and Raedwald, king of the East Angles, had two altars in his church. One Christian, one pagan.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A woman came up to me from Nigeria and a girl friend from Algeria as we took turns on a whisky bottle and smoked in the gardens of the Notre Dame of Geneva in Switzerland around 2005. Happy to see us she said and this was not a compliment we expected. We Blushing. She sat for a while and said: do you know why I and my friend who just left are here? Clearly we didn’t want more. But she continued, this church was built on the shrine of the former God we worshipped. I’m from Italy and my l8tr husband’s family worships that God. We don’t go into the church we just say our prayers in the gardens. Never mind, referring to our habit, you’re both welcome. Truly, I’ve never felt better doing such a thing. We smiled and she walked away.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read (don’t remember where, only some years ago) that when work was done to after fire-damage (in early 1950s, I think it was), the altar was moved. And inside it was found a huge phallic image.
        Early missionaries carrying the Christian message north across Europe were specifically and explicitly told not to destroy the old religion, but to accommodate it into the new. Thus many early Christian sites (e.g. Notre Dame) are built on the sites of the old.

        Liked by 1 person

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