Imbrium vs. Christendom: Pagan Christmas

The Chariot is pulled by two beasts. So am I.

I was raised Catholic. I still appreciate and identify with a lot of the Church’s teachings. I think Jesus was a pretty awesome guy who said a lot of wise things. I think Mary was probably a whole lot more than anyone in the Church now wants to admit. Which Mary, you ask? I answer, Yes. I also think that the Church (and from what I can see, a lot of other Christian denominations) is lost and wandering in the woods.

Figuring out exactly what I think about Catholicism might take a lifetime. I may never have a resolution to this challenge. I’m determined to tease out what I can, so that I can examine this tangle in a different light. It’s what I do, after all.

I’ll start what is likely to be the first of many many similar posts in the coming weeks/months/years with the holiday that is on everyone’s mind right now. Christmas.

First and foremost, I don’t hate Christmas. I don’t even dislike it. In fact, I celebrate it quite happily with my family. Why? Because it makes sense. What is Christmas but yet another version of the Sun/Son being born of the Mother? What is the narrative of Jesus but yet another version of the Willing Sacrifice? It’s not wrong. It’s incomplete. Christmas in my family never felt so incomplete as it does in other settings. This might be why. We’ve always- at least in my immediate family- included things that were about the underlying energy of the Solstice regardless of specific tradition. I’m reasonably certain this is unconscious and I have a hypothesis regarding that as well. Might be part of why we’re looked at askance by the rest of both families, come to think of it. See, it’s understood by many that in its earliest years the Church borrowed so heavily from existing traditions as to functionally usurp the holiday. Some the Church even took over deliberately. In fact, many Christians seem to be aware of this and admit it freely. Well, guess what. At this point- over a thousand years later- I think this qualifies as the established tradition of the land and should be respected as such.

Ah, squeals of indignation.

As much as some of us hate to admit it, tradition is really just that. Something we’ve been doing for so long that it has become expected and an established pattern. If we want our resurrected traditions (or, to be perfectly frank with ourselves, our half-remembered and half-invented resurrected traditions) to be treated with respect, it behooves us to respect the current traditions of the land. If that pisses you off, I offer this small piece of advice: Hold the moral high ground and offer that respect anyway. You might find yourself surprised at how much more fulfilling the holy days become when you appreciate the similarities in traditions. Christmas is a created holiday, certainly. The only reason we don’t say the same about the more ancient holy days is that there is no record of how they were established. Christianity suffers under the weight of its own records, records that we have used ourselves to recreate our own histories.

All of this is why Christmas has tended to feel hollow. Christmas, when held to be void of all ancient symbolism, feels like what it is: a created holyday with minimal underlying foundation for the manner in which it is observed. When we celebrated Christmas in my house we celebrated with the understanding that we were building on something much much older and we took a moment to recognize that fact. My Christmases felt complete. There are probably other reasons for that- namely that Christmas in America is little more than a mindless spending-spree of money we don’t have for things we don’t need that keeps the insatiable beast of our capitalist economy lumbering along for another quarter… but I rant. I have serious, serious issues with the commercialization of anyone’s holy day.

So how about now? What do Christmases feel like from the Pagan side of the fence? Actually, they feel pretty awesome. Yes, the early Church knowingly and quite deliberately usurped an ancient holyday. There is no rule anywhere that says the Church was not allowed to do as it did. Many among our ranks have a fondness for the Classical societies of the Mediterranean, and we’re only lying to ourselves if we try to think that those societies were anything but masters of doing the same.

I think this odd perspective is part of what it has begun to mean to be Imbrium. There are levels and levels to the world in which we live- and layers upon levels to the truths we have believed for so long. I celebrate Midwinter as a time of joy, revelry, family, and returning light. These things seem to be constant. These things transcend religion, they are human and they are magical. So what if my Christmas tree has a dragon for a tree topper while my table centerpiece is an angel? So what if my wreath has a five pointed star woven into the center? So what if there is a Nativity scene on my counter top next to the shrine for the house spirits?

In my home it could never be anything less. Anything less than this strange and to others unsettling blend of Pagan and Catholic would feel incomplete. I will probably never be able to shake the feeling that Jesus meant to build on the pagan beliefs already here, not eradicate them. I have no proof for this feeling. I have no real idea where to go to look for proof. All I know is that in my home all are welcome to the table. Unless they are rude.

I’ll be looking for more sources to back up my gut feelings. I intend to deconstruct a couple of litmus-test type social issues, where I stand on them, and what each side seems to say as my next project. This is hardly scholarly, but it’s helping me figure things out. I hope it helps you too.

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17 responses

  1. Jesus seems to have been a wonderful being (with the wonderful Marys) with a wonderful messages screwed up by the politics of the Church. I also was raised Roman Catholic though I probably have erased more of it from my life than you (especially since Hubby was not raised in that manner). I have a wreath with a 5 pointed star, Tinkerbell as my tree topper and all nifty angels get sent to my sister who collects them (I collect the fairies).

    November 27, 2012 at 02:25

    • Thanks, hon. At least I’m not the only one who mixes her symbols up! :)

      November 27, 2012 at 12:51

      • Honestly, I do not see it as mixing up symbols. Maybe I’ve been Pagan too long but I do not see the issues. I’m seeing a lot of angst this year over ours vs. theirs symbolism. If it is meaningful to you, to your individualistic path and is not offensive to the gods then run with it. The ancients had a large hearth and could do a yule log, we do not so we have a yule tree. How you decorate it is up to individualistic preferences. Wreaths have been used in many places for many reasons, again if it works for you use it. This is only unsettling if you choose for it to be unsettling.

        Take Santa for instance. His role has evolved and changed. I prefer to see him (and the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy) as a spirit of giving without expectations of return. Something a lot of us could do more often.

        Take carols. Why get so shook up over a song? Change the words, view the song differently but don’t tear oneself up over the fact that you enjoy them but shouldn’t. I can’t imagine the Gods really care!

        While I’m probably speaking to the choir, I just had to say it. I really need to do up a blog on this myself. This is a season for joy not for wallowing in shoulds and shouldnots!

        November 27, 2012 at 13:03

        • I don’t mind a bit of preaching to the choir ;) It makes me feel better. And I have hours of Christmas music so I don’t have to hear the same song twelve times in two hours.

          November 27, 2012 at 13:08

          • We got a hold of some Cajun Christmas Carols amd Redneck Christmas carols so anytime I start to fret or get too caught up in the us vs. them, one of them will play. I can then laugh, shrug my shoulders and go on my way.

            November 27, 2012 at 13:14

            • LOL! Nice. I have Jimmy Buffett carols for the same reason.

              November 27, 2012 at 13:18

  2. Wonderful post. Personally I believe that religions and belief systems have to do with the time period and location of those who practice/practiced it. I think that the gods present themselves whatever way is easier. To me this is proven by the fact that belief systems are so very similar in so many ways, despite the impossibility of this – time period, distance, etc. Now, however, when we have access to places far away, and so much information and ways to communicate, i believe it’s time for us to all realize that we are believing in the same gods, and honoring the same or similar holy days. This, I believe is the time that we as humans are supposed to bond together in a spiritual way. So – having said that I respect the beliefs and religions of others, and the only issue I have is with those who refuse to be open minded and hence interfere with this part of human evolution.

    November 27, 2012 at 07:07

    • It’s those insistent similarities- despite great differences in time period and location- that make me believe there is so much more to this than we’ve realized. I think you are probably right about it being time to learn to see the commonalities instead of the differences.

      November 27, 2012 at 12:54

  3. Sam

    Found your blog through Annie’s Deepest Well. I could go on and on about religions but my bottom line is I think they were/are created to control people.

    November 27, 2012 at 11:31

    • Hooray! A new reader!

      It’s my own opinion that you’re about half right in that assessment. I can’t prove either one of us right or wrong, so for me I think that religions probably did *begin* as groups of people genuinely wanting fellowship in their beliefs and practices. Religion has, almost universally, morphed into this great beast that seems bent on total world domination. I use those words specifically for a reason, one I’ll tear into in a future installment.

      November 27, 2012 at 12:56

  4. Excellent post, and I look forward to reading future installments. I did not grow up in a religious home, much less Catholic. I spent several years as a
    “born-again” Protestant in my early twenties, though. The core “scriptural” teaching seemed to involve developing a personal spiritual relationship with Spirit (God and/or Jesus.) The actual core indoctrination seemed to be learning to conform to the beliefs held by the church “elite.”

    Ask any random people their perception of a public figure (let’s use President Obama for example) and you are likely to find that everyone has a different “individual” perception of the man, and the differences may be minor or major. For this reason, it seems unnatural for anybody to have the same perception of an alleged “living” God, much less that great masses of people should have the same perception of Spirit. So much for the personal “revelation” of Spirit? On the other hand, your statements above seem quite natural and reasonable. Of course, this is just one man’s opinion.

    I do not care what anyone chooses to believe… until those beliefs become justification to malign, slander, persecute, and commit physical acts of violence (including murder) against people who do not subscribe to those beliefs. Ironically, as a Pagan, I feel greater sympathy for Jesus due to such reprehensible acts being committed by the Children of Abraham. While I left “The Church” because of its hypocrisy, I relate better to Jesus now because of its persecution.

    I do not consider myself a Christian anymore, but I can relate to what you have written. To offer support (and possibly inspiration), I offer this link to my very first blog over a year ago: http://windingstream.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/jesus-is-a-witch/

    November 27, 2012 at 11:42

    • Ah, your perspective is from a different angle and is therefor appreciated all the more. I didn’t see the church elite posturing, I saw the Church posturing. It may be nothing more than a semantic difference, in practice. I wonder if the fact that we all have slightly different perceptions of gods/spirits/Spirit (some of us even thing they’re all simultaneously) means that we ought to be talking this out even more instead of retreating into similar-minded groups. I find myself incapable of entertaining serious discussion about religion without the story of the blind men and the elephant prancing through my head.

      And yes, I find that I feel more deeply for Jesus’ suffering from this side of the church doors than I ever did inside. Perhaps it’s because I’m finally learning what it’s like to be scorned for my beliefs?

      Much to my chagrin, I had forgotten that post. Thanks for the link!

      November 27, 2012 at 13:05

  5. I came over from “The Deepest Well” blog. Thank you for this thought provoking post. And I look forward to those, to come.

    November 28, 2012 at 07:50

    • Thanks! I’m glad you came over to read :) I shall try not to disappoint.

      November 28, 2012 at 10:11

  6. Pingback: Confession: I Love Christmas | The Allergic Pagan

  7. After decades in a mixed marriage, our family has a polytheistic Merry Midwinter, Solstice, Hanukkah, Yule, Happy Christmas, New Year’ Eve, Happy New Year and favorite college football bowl. Celebrate everything !

    Hat tip to the Allergic Pagan.

    Oh, for a polytheistic Merry Midwinter ! http://bramblesnbriars.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/oh-for-a-polyt…erry-midwinter/

    December 2, 2012 at 17:32

    • I’m a big fan of the “celebrate everything” mentality myself ;)

      And I shall check out dat link!

      December 2, 2012 at 17:58

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