Stolen Symbols

christmas-tree-fire-cropped

Progress and evolution are necessary to humanity’s betterment and it’s silly to fault any sentient species for abiding by the natural urge to advance in thought and practice. Additionally, it’s fair to admit that almost anything in its current form was originally influenced by something else prior. There is no harm in that whatsoever. The difference we have witnessed with Christianity though, is a violent and shameless theft of ideas, rituals and iconography. We have seen that instead of graciously integrating these forms of worship they have condemned the very people they plagiarized. It’s hard then not to see Pagans (used broadly here) as victims and Christians as thugs.

Of course, there are heaps of lovely and accepting Christians. But we are now in the 21st century and little has changed in that Christians are still trying to purge the world of ‘heathenisms’.  Some say that nature was so vital to the people in ancient times that it’s all their little barbaric minds could conceive of being holy. To me, it only makes sense to pay respect to that which is directly giving you life. And the thought of pious, judgmental Christians practicing Pagan rituals on their ‘holy’ days all the while spitting rubbish at me about fire and brimstone leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. So on this holiest of occasions, let us rejoice in knowledge and be keen on the truth: Christians stole Christmas from Pagans.

The entire reason for the season was of course based around nature. Saturnalia and Sol Invictus were both concurrent to the Winter Solstice. Even people of the church found themselves partying with the Pagans on these occasions. Everyone wanted to join in on the Saturnalia debauchery. This prompted the Church to provide an alternative festival in honor of the birth of Christ to co-exist with the current Roman celebration in an attempt to keep Christians away from ‘temptation’ and from slipping back into heathenism. This was merely a convenient way to try to Christianize the Pagan holiday.

One of the iconic characters connected to the Winter season is the most notorious man in red velvet, Santa. While he is most commonly thought to have derived from St. Nicholas, the generous Saint who gave to the needy, it would be most accurate to say that Santa as we know him is a conglomeration of several characters from much earlier on. The Dutch, Sinterklaas is an obvious inspiration, having a nearly identical legend to Santa, yet also revealing a dark side in which he commands his Zwarte Piets (elves) to punish naughty children with jute bags and willow canes. But we can trace this legend back even further still to Scandinavian countries that held Pagan beliefs. The Pagan god, Odin was known to ride on his fabled horse with 8 legs, Sleipnir with other gods on Yule, a German holiday around the same time as Christmas. At this time children would leave their shoes filled with treats such as hay for Sleipnir and when the horse would eat the food, Odin would replace it with candy and sweets. Odin was often described as a paunchy old man in a long dark cape and although he may have appeared less approachable than the jovial grandpa in velour we see today, he was delivering gifts to children long before Mr. Claus.

Odin_riding_Sleipnir

Odin riding Sleipnir

 

It is no secret that it’s common practice among Pagans to worship trees…they are a part of nature, after all. The pine tree specifically was admired as a symbol of strength, fortitude and immortality, qualities thought necessary for surviving long, harsh winters. Pine trees were a part of Winter worship for Pagans, but also represented the same values to several ancient cultures including the Egyptians and Chinese. Today we erect artificial copies, put haloed angels on top and call them Christmas trees. While Pagans and Druids would bring in branches and small pieces of the pine, they would allow the trees to remain rooted in the ground outside, decorate them with edibles such as fruits and nuts, left them to flourish and thrive during the festivities and more importantly, after the celebrations as well. Naturally.

To this day it is common practice to deck doors and windows with ornamental holiday wreaths at Christmas time. The wreath has been used as a symbol of power and strength since classical antiquity – the laurel wreath adorned the head of many Greek and Roman leaders as a crown because of its connotation. They also associated the wreath with their sun god and attributed the same qualities of vitality to this deity. Before this, harvest wreaths were used in rituals for good harvest and even predate written history. They were traditionally made from evergreen, boasting more symbolism classically linked to Winter celebration. The connection to Christianity aside from still being used as decoration in Christian house-holds, can be seen at funerals for saints and martyrs. A wreath will often be placed on the burial to symbolize ever-lasting life, holding the same meaning it does at Pagan solstice.

Another plant we see often this time of year that is dear to Pagans and druids, is mistletoe. This plant was being used in Winter festivities 200 years before the birth of Christ. It was revered for its ability to thrive and remain a vivid green in the brutal Winter months despite not having roots. Mistletoe was also seen as a symbol of peace, and it was said that in Roman times if two enemies met underneath the mistletoe, they were required to lay down their weapons. In Scandinavia they connected the plant with Frigga, their goddess of love which may be where showing affection beneath the mistletoe may have derived from. Happiness and good luck was promised to those who partook. Aside from holding important meaning, Mistletoe was used as an antidote for poison, infertility and to ward off evil spirits because it was thought to have magical healing powers.

mistletoe snow

Mistletoe is a vampire plant

 

In the end, my message is the same as any Christian would claim; I am preaching love, acceptance and understanding. If a person says Merry Christmas to me, I will happily say it back. What some Christians have lost along the way is the love, understanding and acceptance for those beliefs they claim oppose theirs. We are not in opposition. Coexistence should not be a Christmas miracle, it should be the norm, ever-lasting, like the pine tree.

Sol Invictus – Unconquered Sun

Sometimes coincidences feel a little too uncanny. Here again we see Christians taking notes from Pagans and then desperately trying to distance their followers from such “heretical”practices. Sol Invictus (unconquered sun) was the official sun god of the Roman empire. The Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the birthday of the unconsolquered sun) was held on the 25th of December and so naturally a popular theory formed in the 18th and 19th centuries that this was why the Christians selected that day as the birth of Christ. It only seems appropriate to choose the winter solstice, when the light of day first becomes ascendant, as the natal day for both the sun and the son. Proponents of the History of Religions tend to interpret Christmas as a substitution for Sol Invictus for reasons like this and beyond. No matter how hard Christians may try to remove themselves from this Roman holiday, we have facts to examine and can make our own decisions.

Early Christians tended to not recognize birthdays like Romans did. Only two birthdays are mentioned in the New Testament: that of Pharaoh (Genesis 40:20) and Herod Antipas of Galilee. Late in the first century AD, Josephus remarks that “the law does not permit us to make festivals at the births of our children.” Additionally, they thought  it was ridiculous to assign birth dates to gods. Some Christian leaders made it a point to ridicule the Pagans, emphasizing their disbelief in the practice of recognizing natal days.

“We men gather our vintages, and they think and believe that the gods gather and bring in their grapes; we have birthdays, and they affirm that the powers of heaven have birthdays. The day of death [is better] than the day of one’s birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

Christians refusal to acknowledge birthdays would suggest then that Jesus’s birth would too be overlooked and not celebrated for fear of emulating Pagan practices. It was stressed by Christian leaders that it was forbidden to take part in Saturnalia celebrations or gift-giving at midwinter or on an “idol’s birthday” for they proclaimed that every pomp of the devil frequents these celebrations. It was said that just like the Pagans did not celebrate the Lord’s Day (Sunday) that Christians should too shy away from Pagan days of celebration.

“When the world rejoices, let us grieve; and when the world afterward grieves, we shall rsolinvictusejoice”

Christians were so aware of the similarities of their Christmas with that of the Pagan ceremony of Sol Invictus that they took large measures in making sure the two would not be confused. Even in the 5th century AD they were well aware of the coincidence between the feast of the Nativity and the winter solstice. Even if Christians claimed to be worshipping the creator of the sun and not the sun itself, leaders were expected to advise the faithful not to honor the sun on the doorsteps of the old basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome which originally had been built in a way so that the sun, rising from the east would shine through and illuminate the apse at the west of the church.

“From such a system of teaching proceeds also the ungodly practice of certain foolish folk who worship the sun as it rises at the beginning of daylight from elevated positions: even some Christians think it is so proper to do this that, before entering the blessed Apostle Peter’s basilica, which is dedicated to the One Living and true God, when they have mounted the steps which lead to the raised platform, they turn round and bow themselves towards the rising sun and with bent neck do homage to its brilliant orb. We are full of grief and vexation that this should happen, which is partly due to the fault of ignorance and partly to the spirit of heathenism: because although some of them do perhaps worship the Creator of that fair light rather than the Light itself, which is His creature, yet we must abstain even from the appearance of this observance: for if one who has abandoned the worship of gods, finds it in our own worship, will he not hark back again to this fragment of his old superstition, as if it were allowable, when he sees it to be common both to Christians and to infidels?”

Sermon XXVII: On the Feast of the Nativity, VII (Pt. IV)

We see more evidence of the original celebration of the “unconquered sun” in hymns, notably the well known Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. The fifth stanza is the verse “Hail the Sun of righteousness!/ Light and life to all he brings.” This song was originally written in 1739 by Charles Wesley but was later changed in 1753 by George Whitfield to “Hail the Son of righteousness!”.  Later in his Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists Charles John Wesley, the original writer of the song, implored those who changed the lyrics to “let them stand just as they are, to take things for better or worse; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page; that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men”. And so let it be known that December 25th is the celebration of Sol Invictus, the first and true unconquered sun.

Saturnalia

Saturnalia - large

Consumerism and Avarice. Holiday word association for the modern soul who’s utterly exhausted by this annual obligation. Who celebrates an empty bank account? Capitalism has punched a gaudy hole in the spirit, draining joy from our little bodies as we take out loans to buy gifts for the loved ones in our lives….sometimes even for the secretly despised ones. Realistically ancient times were not brimming with love, peace and joy either, but at the very least there was something to be said for gratitude in relation to survival.

Saturnalia was Rome’s most popular festival. The time of year when slaves were granted freedom, the rich served the poor, civil courts were closed and declarations of war were forbidden. Gifts were given, particularly wax candles to signify the return of light after the winter solstice. Feasting and unabashed, lavish partying ensued. Of course, the feasting and gift-giving are what the Christians took from Saturnalia but I would venture to say that we have voluntarily enslaved ourselves to this chore of a holiday rather than allowed for liberation and reprieve.

Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters’ clothing, and be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god. In the Saturnalia, Lucian has the god’s priest declare that “During My week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside.”

 

Saturnalia honors the Roman deity, Saturn (the Greek Cronos). While saturn-devouring-one-of-his-children-1823we are aware of some of his attributes – abundance, wealth, time – he remains a complex god. Some scholars refrain from making too many statements about Saturn because there is a lack of concrete information about his origins. We do know he has a dark side. Who can forget that iconic Goya painting of Saturn eating his children? Time is the devourer of all things. (In truth there are many theories surrounding the message of that painting). But in regards to Saturnalia he was celebrated for his association with seeds, sowing and bounty because originally this was a farmer’s holiday marking the end of the planting season to honor the god.

 

 Due to his prominent role in founding Roman culture through agriculture and wine, and his association with wealth and plenty, Saturn was the first god of the Capitol, one of Rome’s seven hills where government buildings, including the Senate and Forum, were located.

The festival served not only to celebrate the dedication of the temple of Saturn, but also to commemorate the mythical Golden Age over which Saturn ruled. Originally Saturnalia was only to be celebrated for a few days, Augustus pushing for less in order to keep the civil courts open longer. Eventually Caligula extended the celebration to last a week. Chaotic indulgence is the ultimate goal. “Nova Romans” would suggest that the best way to celebrate Saturnalia and honor the old traditions would be to place more focus and efforts on lavish partying rather than decorations or gift-giving.

This holiday season let’s all take a break from responsibility, reverse some roles and become proper Lords and Ladies of Misrule.

 

 

 

 

Wolf Moon. Full Moon. Moon Garden.

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Lunar Wolf-Dogs Eat the Flesh of the Dead

The Wolf Moon, the first full moon of January, will appear on the 4th and into the 5th this year. In the stillness of Winter, wolf packs howled eerily up at the moon in the forests outside of Indian villages, thus earning January’s full moon the title of Wolf Moon. Some used to also refer to this moon as the Old moon, or Snow Moon but most commonly Snow Moon is given to the full moon in February. The association of wolves to the full moon appears in folklore around the world including German and Scandinavian in addition to Native American mythology. Though, supernatural theories aside, this full moon in January just happened to appear when wolves were at their hungriest.

Because they eat carrion, wolves symbolize death and regeneration. These qualities themselves are often attributed to the moon. Myth has it that the Norwegian goddess Hel gave birth to lunar wolf-dogs who ate the flesh of the dead before they carried their souls off to paradise. I just spoke about these themes in my last post, referring to Janus, Saturn and Death/Rebirth. Strange to see our Wolf Moon being assigned to January and holding much of the same symbolism.

The Native American Creek believe the moon to be inhabited by an old man and his canine companion. The people of the Seneca Nation say that the Wolf Spirit sang the moon into the sky and that is why all wolves howl at the moon to this day. The dog was the sacred companion of the moon goddess of the prehistoric Balkan civilizations. Thoth, was pictured as a dog-faced ape who was slowly eaten away by monsters as he made nightly voyages on his celestial barque. Hecate, the goddess, was associated with the dark moon. She always traveled with dogs. Dogs also accompanied the moon goddess Artemis/Diana on her nocturnal hunts.

Excerpt from the Moon Watcher’s Companion by Donna Henes

Humans (skeptics included) have been fascinated by full moons and the lore surrounding them since the beginning. Full moons are shrouded in mystery. Not only in mythology but in the exploration of the celestial body itself. For instance: we can never see the dark side of the moon from Earth. In 1959 Russia’s Luna III was the first to return with pictures of the dark side of our moon. But many mysteries still remain.

Image of the Dark Side of the Moon from Luna 3

Image of the Dark Side of the Moon from Luna 3

Of course there is yet to be any scientific evidence proving a correlation between a full moon and the effect it may have on a person’s actions, mood or mentality. So far these are all studies done on a general, wide-ranging group and through an abstract lens. Whereas if you speak to any person it is not uncommon for them to share their observations of the eccentric and unexplained behavior they bear witness to around the time of a full moon. According to H.H. Mitchell, (Journal of Biological Chemistry 158), the brain and heart are composed of 73% water and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%. In short, we are mostly water. Does the moon not hold sway over us like it does our ocean’s tides?

“The concept of moon madness is an old and widespread one. Moon and mind and spiritual power are linked etymologically from the Indo-European precursor of both the Sanskrit manas and the Latin mens. From this root are derived the English words: “menstration,” moon blood; “mania”, moon madness; and “numinous”, moon magic. Devotees of the moon goddess Luna or Mana were lunatics and maniacs and were condemned by the church as mad, crazy or silly – a word which had formerly meant blessed.”

Whether you are a skeptic, a mage, a lay man, a scientist or an alien, I think we all bask in the majesty of our moon from time to time. I have personally vowed to become closer to our moon and one way I plan to do so is to create a moon garden. A moon garden is typically composed of arrangements of all white flowers, night bloomers and fragrant species. It is a garden specifically made to view by moon-light. Some moon gardens might include:

Moon Garden

Moon Garden

  • Alyssum
  • Asters
  • Baby’s Breath
  • Columbine
  • Cosmos
  • Daffodils
  • Delphiniums
  • Japanes Iris
  • Moonflowers
  • Mums
  • Nicotiana
  • Night-Scented Stock
  • Petunia
  • Sweet Woodruff

Happy Howling

Janus. Saturn. Death.

January approaches! Aside from the first, typically not a very celebrated month, much due to it being home to the heart of Winter – a season that fills most with dread. Many do not so much enjoy January as they endure it. But for me it is particularly significant in that it’s my birth month and much of the symbolism and ritual associated with this time of year resonates with me.

It is most commonly believed that the month of January is named after the Roman deity Janus. He is known for transitions, new beginnings, doorways, gateways and passages. Also endings. Highly appropriate for the start of a new year.


“While the fundamental nature of Janus is debated, in most modern scholars’ view the set of the deity’s functions may be seen as being organized around a simple principle: that of presiding over all beginnings and transitions, whether abstract or concrete, sacred or profane. Interpretations concerning the god’s fundamental nature either limit it to this general function or emphasize a concrete or particular aspect of it (identifying him with light, the sun, the moon, time, movement, the year, doorways, bridges etc.) or see in the god a sort of cosmological principle, i. e. interpret him as a uranic deity.”

Almost all of these modern interpretations were originally formulated by the ancients.

Duplicity of Janus

Janus is typically depicted with two faces: one facing the future and one facing the past. He is a gateway. The freshness of a new year marks unlimited possibilities and while it’s important to look into the light of the future, it is necessary to reflect upon the past as well no matter how dim, grim, gloomy or dark it may be.

In short, Janus is at the origin of time. While speaking on symbols of time, I feel it would be a mistake not to make mention of our time-lord Saturn. Saturn is the ruling planet of Capricorn, the reigning sign of this season (also Aquarius at the end of the month). Saturn is the planet of Karma. Playing the role of the teacher and the disciplinary, we learn from our past mistakes and are made to repay any karmic deficits when affected by this energy. This is not an easy energy. It’s actually rather harsh in its teachings. People who are attuned to the energies of our planets tend to groan when they see Saturn approaching their chart. But in the end we learn invaluable insights from this planet. It grounds us and forces us to take genuine, harsh looks at our realities so we can correct our poor actions and reach our full potentials. Respect or be humbled!

Author Henry Miller, afflicted by Saturn, a Capricorn, voices his loathing of Saturn in his book Tropic of Capricorn:

“Saturn is life in suspense, not death so much as deathless, i.e. incapable of dying. Saturn is as eternal as fear and irresolution, growing more milky, more cloudy with each compromise, each capitulation. Saturn gives us only what we ask for, not an inch extra.

Saturn is a living symbol of gloom, morbidity, disaster, fatality. Saturn is malefic through force of inertia. Its ring, which is only paperweight in thickness, according to savants, is the wedding ring that signifies death or misfortune devoid of all significance.

Let the heavens sing its glory – this lymphatic globe of doubt and ennui will never cease to cast its milky white rays of lifeless gloom.”

Milky white gloom

Milky White Rays of Lifeless Gloom

Miller’s dramatic interpretation of Saturn can only suggest he was not a fan of Saturn transits, though he is not far off in his grim depiction. Among the harsh lessons Saturn brings are the symbols of death and dying, which are widely associated with Winter. But as we know, the counterpart of Death is rebirth. Something to keep in mind while in the eye of the storm.

In the spirit of Janus, Saturn, and Death/Re-birth, it would be wise to mark this as a transition, having learned from this past year and taking those lessons through a new door. Pay homage to the past year and celebrate new beginnings. In ancient times it was customary to exchange well wishes for the Romans believed the beginning of anything was an omen for the whole.

Some other practices included exchanging dates, figs, honey and gifts of strenae. Also cakes made of spelt and salt were offered to Janus and burnt on the altar. Ovid states that in most ancient times there were no animal sacrifices and gods were propitiated with offerings of spelt and pure salt. So party purely, safely and humanely!

Safe travels.