Pumpkins and Pagans

Today is the first day of Scorpio. Every year at this time I ask myself whether there’s been any change in the blasphemy that’s been made of Halloween.

I have written elsewhere about the original meaning of this holiday, once a holy day in the truest sense of the word. Samhain, as it was known to the ancient Celts, is a Minor Sabbat: it falls midway between an Equinox and a Solstice (the Major Sabbats). Based on agricultural cycles, Sabbats were also spiritual milestones. Prehistorical Europeans used these annual turning points as the scaffolding of their cosmology, which revolved around the Goddess. Her ministers were priestesses. Her wicce (whence, witches) were tribal elders.

As is well-known to those who have looked into the history of the Christian Church, Rome co-opted each and every one of these festivals in a brutally thorough two-thousand-year-long usurpation program that took neat advantage of the fact that pivotal times of the year had sacred connotations, hardwired into the human psyche.

The ancients saw time as circular, not linear. To them the year was a great wheel. Key stages of its rotation described a cosmic drama between the Goddess and her consort: a son/lover figure associated with the Sun. He was said to have been born anew every Yul, at the winter solstice. (It was with a good deal of ingenuity that the early church fathers manipulated this myth. The Sun is born became The Son is born.)

When the Wheel made its way round to Springtime, at Beltane (May Day), the now-pubescent god lay with the Lady of Life in sexual communion in fields bedecked with flowers. In early August, at Lughnassad (Lammas), he sacrificed himself for the cause of Life.

Last night I watched an episode of the old Inspector Morse series called “Day of the Devil,” in which Lammas figured prominently. The story featured a group of Satanists who engaged in “black masses.” I had always found this show to be intelligently written, so I was disheartened to see it trotting out the same old idiotic stereotypes that we see everywhere else. The evil weirdos in the story were alternately referred to as “pagans” and “occultists” by the sensible protagonists. The baddies wore long robes and chanted to the devil in secret ceremonies. Much was made of how they mimicked and inverted the rituals of the Catholic Church: arcane symbols were accompanied by spooky music; chalices and upside-down crosses were on display. All the participants in this icky business were male.

The only thing these fictional “pagans” had in common with the historical ones was that they held their rites in the woods.

Sacred groves were the ancients’ churches.

Nature-centered religions, to which speakers of English unknowingly refer when they use the word pagan (the word means “country folk”), have been equated with devil-worship since the Church launched its ambitious efforts to stamp out the Old Ways. It is an equation the modern mind has stubbornly held onto. Even historically astute people tend to be quite unaware of what spirituality looked like during the thousands upon thousands of years before the invention of the Old-Testament God and his evil twin, The Devil.

It makes sense, psychologically, that believers in the God-vs.-the-Devil legend would give the Evil Pagan fantasy a disproportionate amount of attention. So do comic book illustrators, pulp fiction writers and tabloid journalists, for whom thrillingly scary scenarios are stock in trade.

But for educated modern thinkers to continue to buy into this particular bit of ecclesiastical nonsense is to deny the historical record: the Devil-God feud didn’t come along until relatively late in the game. To characterize Europe’s aboriginal rites as a perverse backlash to Christianity gets it the wrong way round. The institutionalized church was a backlash to them.

The legacy of Rome has so completely infiltrated our thinking that most people in Western cultures cannot fathom any spiritual outlook that doesn’t refer to Christianity: philosophies are presumed to be either in the fold or rebelling from it. Like all ideologies bereft of context, institutionalized Christianity is narcissistically self-referential. It suffers from the myopia of dualism, the inability to imagine any more than two opposing choices: your own view, and all others.

If you’re not a Democrat, you must be a Republican. If you didn’t support the war in Iraq, you supported Saddam Hussein. If you don’t worship Jehovah, you must worship Lucifer.

Drawn into this myopia, many people seem to forget that God and Mephistopheles are both Christian figures. They are of the same tribe, and shore up the same plot line. They exist as a polarized whole cut into two parts. Like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, they give each other meaning.

It is remarkable how the smattering of self-professed Satanists who do exist have so thoroughly confused the issue of paganism. Like a red herring dragged across the path, they have drawn attention away from a historical development of momentous significance: the genocide of several continents’-worth of indigenous cultures. Instead of being taught in schools and entering into the realm of common knowledge, this unequaled holocaust has been all but ignored; and to add insult to injury, its victims have been blackened by nominal association with an obscure and historically unrelated group of fetishists. Thus has the church justified its atrocities. By invoking the public’s fixation on a handful of colorful sociopaths, it has maligned prehistory’s “heathens” (people of the heath) and denied them their place in history.

But the Church of Rome, as an institution, is on its last legs. Since Pluto passed through Sagittarius it has been losing ethical credibility as fast as it has been losing pedophile lawsuits. Although the depiction of paganism as the Christian’s-worst-nightmare persists, a powerful challenge to it is gathering steam. The prehistorical spiritual worldview is being reborn in the new Earth-honoring philosophies that have arisen from our global ecological crisis. And for those who like their viewpoints stamped with the seal of officialdom, this primordial worldview has been given a scientific name: the Gaia Theory.

Far more threatening to the sky-god schema than any nocturnal gatheri
ng of crazies waving upside-down crosses, these new iterations of ancient spirituality represent the reemergence of the ageless Sacred Feminine.

Blessings of Samhain to all.

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Thank you for this perennating insight. (I think am in love.) Even read at another time of year, I am amazed.


This subject needs a lot of exposure. People in America are subject to so much propaganda that we cannot see the forest for the billboards broadcasting distortion.We are a symbol-illiterate society; the power factions know this and broadcast subliminal messages through ancient (powerful) symbols. We can see this in the prevalent use of the Saturn symbology in corporate logos, for one example.Just as words are powerful in entrenching concepts and ideas into a civilization, so are graphic symbols. Walmart introduced it's solar logo in blue (trust) and is now switching it to the more powerful yellow (knowledge). Americans (and world citizens now) are exposed to these symbolic "elicitors" on a continually-repeating basis without the knowledge of the meaning behind the symbols.Candyce


Thanks for this beautiful entry.

Jessica Murray
Jessica Murray

Anne,True. We are constantly being snookered by this limitation of language, and goes so deep that it shapes our perceptions (cf. the linguistic Sapir/Whorf premise).Jessica


Thanks for this. I think, also, we must consider the influence of Aristotelian logic in further entrenching the polarization of Western 'thought.' The English language has become the seat of comfort for those who can only think in opposites--only poetry tries to escape the trap. Anne