"Roman priests knew the same truth psychotherapists know: deep desires and ancient drives cannot simply be consigned to the underworld."
Now I know why I've never been to Dublin for New Year's Eve. Though I have walked the streets of Liverpool on a Saturday night, which is to take your life into your hands.
'The gods of empire have had their time. Capitalism may have been born of the monotheist god, but in the common Christian’s perception of him as a manly father-king located somewhere in the heavens, we see he’s mostly a less-rapey (excluding poor Mary, of course) copy of Jupiter-Zeus. Empire has won, humans everywhere divided by class and its modern variants. The abundance of the earth during its Golden Age is more than a distant memory, and now the land dies beneath us in our constant laboring.'
This is the bit where I nudge you again to look past modern variants of Christianity to the ancient version, the apostolic tradition and that of the Desert Fathers and early martyrs, which can still be found in the Orthodox Church. When you talk about Christianity in this way you're actually talking about a version of the faith which has also been bent out of shape by empire and modernity.
(Not that those are the same thing. I would love to agree that 'the gods of empire have had their time' but my take is that if you invite those 'old gods' back in you're just going to get very much nastier empires. I give you, as an example, the Aztec god Tlalac, who required the sacrifice of 'children who had recently been made to weep.' Or, come to that, many of the Roman Gods displaced by the Christians, who justified those freeborn Roman men raping their slaves for pleasure - all in a day's work for Rome until St Paul arrived.)
Anyway, my wider point is that Christmas - which was indeed deliberately designed to supplant Sol Invictus - is itself the revolution. You want a God against Empire? I give you the incarnation of the Creator himself - none of yer minor Chthonic deities - who comes to Earth as an artisan at the back end of a great empire, preaches and works miracles in villages, small towns, deserts and lake shores, dines with outcasts and sinners, and, when he finally goes to the city, the heart of Empire, he overturns the tables of the temple proto-capitalists and is executed by the authorities, both religious and secular, for the threat he poses.
(Spoiler alert: He gets the last laugh.)
I always liked song of his mother Mary, on hearing that she has been chosen as the vessel of this miracle:
'... For the Mighty One has done great things for me.
Holy is His name.
His mercy extends to those who fear Him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who are proud
in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
but has exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
but has sent the rich away empty ...'
Happy Chthonic Christmas!
Historic paganism around the world was not the sanitized, pacific versions of today, but often had horrors intrinsic to it, the horrors were not aberrations contradicting its true teachings. You are a well read perceptive person and must be aware of this. It would be interesting to hear how you have grappled with this fact. In a way modern paganism is a “reformation” of the past variety.
And to keep this fair I confess there are “horrors” in the Bible and classic Christian theologies. A human sacrifice performed by God in the death of Jesus, an omnipotent God of love observing the frequent horrors of life and seemingly not doing what is within his power to stop the horrors, promising either forgiveness through the blood of Christ for a horror or dealing with the unrepentant at a final judgment, the horror of hell and the terror of the end times. There are more, but enough horror for now.
I never knew a lot of this history. Thank you!
Very interesting, I enjoyed this.
I'm interested in the similarities between the Saturnalia traditions and the Irish traditions of Samhain (Hallowe'en), where people dress in masks and get up to mischeif. A time you can give your boss a kick in the arse and they can't say anything about it - they may not even know who you are. I was told of a similar tradition in Peru when I visited there years ago.
And all of them remind me of Charles Eisenstein's essay, the Death of the Festival. He has a theory on the importance of these traditions and how they are dying out.
Saturn in Vedic astrology (Jyotish) is also seen as a tough and necessary taskmaster, and all about learning. Saturn is not to be dreaded, as it is perhaps in Western astrology, but rather to be respected as a tough teacher, as someone who helps us to align to our true purpose.
In any religion, spirituality that we can encounter there are difficult hard to swallow bits if you take an honest look. The usual response is to take a buffet approach, take what you like, ignore the rest or place it on a bed of Procrustes and stretch or nip and tuck as needed. I see it done with Jesus, remaking him into a shaman, buddhist or hindu, a social justice warrior, or a mere persecuted teacher of truth as needed to make him comfortable.
This is also an unconscious response, as we unconsciously emphasize and apply aspects that resonate with us. Anyway here are the scriptures that help me face and accept the "dark" side of God or gods if you prefer. Scriptures are slightly paganized.
I kill and I make alive; I wound , and I heal, neither is there any that can deliver out of my (our) hand(s) Deuteronomy 32:39
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (gods) Hebrews 10:31
Our God (gods) is, are a consuming fire Hebrews 12:29
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways saith the LORD (Yahweh in the Hebrew), replace Yahweh with the name of the god of your choice, Isaiah 55:8
How unsearchable are His (his or her) judgments, and His (his or her) paths past finding out, Romans 11:33
Just a monotheist playing at henotheism!
Thanks for writing this. You've connected and put into words many of my own similar thoughts and musings. One correction though: "Advent extends over many days, and ends on 6 January, the day of Epiphany (thus the '12 days of Christmas' most Americans have heard sung about, despite not knowing why there are 12)." No, Advent ends on Christmas Eve, followed by Christmas. It is the penitential preparatory season prior to the 12 days of Christmas, just as Lent prepares the way for Easter. Having grown up Protestant, however, I was certainly one of those who didn't understand what the "12 Days of Christmas" referred to growing up. I'm not sure if my parents even did.