Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A Pagan Christmas in High Summer

Saturnalia Man by
Christmas presents a bit of a problem for me. Obviously there is the problem of the very obvious Christian aspect of this most popular of Western celebrations, and then there is the problem that the most common Pagan twists on this important holiday tend to focus on the winter solstice, which obviously has absolutely no application in the southern hemisphere – where I live and have lived for many years. Another common Pagan re-interpretation of Christmas revolves around Saturnalia – which is worthy but doesn’t completely solve my problem.

Reinventing Christmas by looking to Saturnalia doesn’t work for me for a number of reasons, but the main reason is that Saturnalia begins on the 17th of December and ends before the 24th. This effectively takes it out of contention as a suitable means of reinterpreting Christmas in a manner consistent with Paganism. The people with whom I celebrate Christmas would not have a bar of it. They will not want to replace Christmas with a celebration on the 17th – so close to the 24th and 25th, the days about which they actually care. They will not want to exchange gifts on the 23rd. They will know little about the agricultural and bounteous nature of Saturn, and such stories will not resonate with them. What does resonate with all of us though, as far as Saturnalia goes, is the urge to make merry during this period, to dress up, and to even enjoy a bit of role reversal, or at least upset the status quo in a licentious way. The suggestion that gingerbread men originate in human shaped biscuits made during Saturnalia (perhaps as human sacrifice by proxy?) also appeals for being so dark, deep and primeval. Thus I can certainly begin celebrating the Christmas period in the spirit of Saturnalia, but I cannot replace Christmas with Saturnalia.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Julian the Apostate – Pagan Hero?

Julian II (the Apostate), solidus, 361 CE
When I first heard about Julian the apostate (also known as Julian the philosopher)  the last polytheistic emperor of Rome, who attempted to reinvigorate the old ways throughout the Roman Empire after decades of Christian rule  I was naturally pretty interested. My initial impression was that he must of been amongst the last of the old school Romans bravely trying to push back the tide of Christianity. As I have learned more about him, and his times, I have come to realise that this was a naïve and self-serving perspective. I know now that Julian the apostate was an infinitely more complex character than I could have ever imagined and perhaps, ultimately, an unknowable one at that.