‘A pox upon the pious’: Abiezer Coppe and a healthy aversion to martyrdom

February 15, 2015

I’m delighted to see someone has finally uploaded this song about the seventeenth-century millenarian, Abiezer Coppe.

I first came across this song by Leon Rosselson on an LP, played when I spent a couple of days in Newcastle-Under-Lyme in 1984. I was put up in a small, red-brick, Victorian terraced house, the home of some members of the Careless Talk collective, who were involved in the conference I was attending. I mention the architectural detail because – aside from discussion of the Miners’ Strike and some of the legendary exploits of the Folkestone anarchists, such as opening unlicensed drinking premises after hours – there was an undercurrent of anxiety about spooky goings-on in what was hardly a Gothic mansion. Such anxiety had led to calling on the services of a psychic or magician to construct an invisible ‘temple of… something (light? power?)’ in the downstairs back parlour in front of the hearth. I envisaged it as some kind of invisible cat’s cradle of energies. This had been devised to counteract or neutralise certain manifestations which took place upstairs, the location by the hearth being regarded by the magical practitioner as the ‘seat’ of these uncanny events. From what I remember being told, such manifestations involved one or other of the housemates or visitors waking up in the middle of the night, paralysed by fear. On one of these occasions a column of light was perceived in the room, which appeared to be composed of swarming bees. On another occasion someone awoke to see the apparition of a lion’s face.

I was relieved to not be disturbed by any such phenomena that weekend.

A pox upon the pious

The 1980s marked a kind of final flowering of the ‘counterculture’ and the ‘uncontrollable’ elements of the workers’ movement, epitomised on the one hand by the squat scene and the ‘Peace Convoy’, and on the other by open insurrection in South Yorkshire and the activities of the miners’ ‘Hit Squads’. There was no shortage of pious homilies from politicians of left and right against such outbreaks of proleterian indiscipline. Now, after over thirty years of an inhuman economic discipline in which the rich have got richer and the poor poorer, Abiezer Coppe’s example has assumed a new relevance. Furthermore, Coppe’s refusal of martyrdom is a refreshing change from the piety of the self-sacrificial militant attitude which finds its justification in the kind of scriptural authority that he surely would have despised.

‘… his ghost they cannot kill, haunts the rich and righteous, drunk and dancing still.’


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