christ_crucified_w saints I am forever amazed how many people aren’t familiar…nay, are downright  ignorant…of their own religion.  I mean all of it…the history and how it came to be, what influenced it and how it has evolved over however long it’s been around into what it is now, why they beliefve certain things and why they do whatever rituals, ceremonies or prayers…even what its actual formal doctrine and/or dogma is.  How can one say this or that is their religion if they don’t even know what that religion is and how it functions??

You would think this lack of familiarity would give them some pause, keeping them from attempting to argue points about which they feel strongly with non-believers, or partial-believers, or alternate-believers (it does seem that most people do profess to believe in something).  How in the world can one really truly expect to be able to pull this off and be taken seriously if the persons with whom they are debating…or worse, trying to “convert”…know more about the damn belief system and its history than they do?!  I just don’t get it.

The part that really gets me is when Party A (Mr/Ms Ignorant) is confronted with the additional/correct information from Party B (whom Party A is attempting to convert or sway in some way to their thinking).  Reactions from Party A vary from blandly discarding whatever info/tidbit/discrepancy has been provided…a reaction akin to fingers in the ears, singing la-la-la-la-la to crowd out the sound of the offending information…all the way up to flat-out anger and/or fire-and-brimstone sermon tactics, complete with self-righteous indignation.  It baffles me.  It humors me.   And then I get pissed off.

I mean, I don’t like to usually get into religious discussions with anyone.  This is something that I deeply feel is the ultimate personal space and an area that any discussion really should be only between an individual and whatever Higher Power they feel they subscribe to…and possibly, from time to time, with one learned in that chosen belief system, should the person feel the need for assistance and guidance.  However, with “The Holidays” upon us, there seems to be some discussion throughout certain areas of the blogosphere regarding the Christmas Controversy, or War on Christmas, or what have you…and it’s evolved into there being all manner of persons going off on others about what’s what, what’s wrong or right or about the sanctity of the holiday and the birth of Christ and such…it’s actually got me a bit upset.

Now if you subscribe to the Holy Virgin Birth Theory, then fine.  I don’t but that’s great if you do and it works for you.  But doesn’t that mean that you believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would have you Love One Another and promote peace and harmony and do for others as you would wish them to do for you?  Isn’t that the whole idea to those folks that celebrate Jesus’ birth this time of year?  So, why all this animosity about whether there’s a tree or an angel or a Santa or a menorah hanging out for all to see?  Or not getting well-wished in the way you want it?   We used to call that looking a gift horse in the mouth.  Who Menorah_mosaic cares if someone says Happy Holidays to me…I have a holiday this time of year, too!  It’s not the one they were probably thinking of, but so what?   Do I care if they call out Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah to me?  Well, no, not really, because it’s the idea behind the sentiment that counts.  Hell, I’d be okay with someone wishing me a Happy Kwanza…though I don’t even know exactly when that is…because damn it!  That’s their version of their Winter Holiday. 

And there’s another thing…I’m sorry, but the Christians do not have a monopoly on December 25th as a holiday.  In truth, they stole it from the pagans…you know, those peoples that used to abound throughout the world…including throughout the Roman Empire…with many different gods for different purposes and each one had their own feast day?  (Sounds like the Saints to me, but that’s another topic for another day…)

So, let’s discuss the Ancient Romans, since they celebrated Saturnalia from December 17th through the 23rd…and boy was it a doozy of a time!  Feasts and parties and games and gifts and…hmm…sound familiar?  Yeah, well they also had animal sacrifices and the parties were pretty famously full of debauchery.  So much so that more that one Emperor even tried to shorten the festival days from seven days to first three (Augustus), then five (Caligula), but to no avail!  Nope…the people loved their festival.  Over time it eventually evolved into Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, “the birthday of the unconquered sun”, which was celebrated on December 25th, and although  the feasting days were now fewer (they still had another feast day on Dec 19th), the revelry continued unabated. 

Somewhere along the line, the Christians started getting better press…Constantine converting was a huge help with that…and because of the popularity of these very pagan celebrations, the Church eventually felt it best to declare Jesus’ day of birth to coincide….how convenient!  The idea is so that the masses would be able to more easily adjust to to incorporating Christian modes into their lives, and do away with the old pagan rites.  Well…good on paper, but not necessarily so in action, at least not at first.  A great deal of the pagan rites and practices just migrated over to the new holiday.  The Tree, the Yule Log, the abundance of extra candles (normally a very wasteful and a costly thing), the holly and mistletoe (both green with berries, they were and are symbols of life in the “death” of Winter), the giving of gifts, the plethora of sweets and heaps of feasting…all pagan in origin. 

So…who’s desecrating who’s holiday with adding a babe in a manger, a supernatural “star” in the sky, and a few astrologers/magicians stopping by with gifts (a little late) a few weeks later?

WICCA_L See, but the pagan way isn’t like the Christian way.  We don’t say “Our way or the highway”  (or rather, “Our way or the flaming stake”!).  We go…”Sure, whatever.  Just don’t mess what with we already got going good here and I don’t really care what name you put on the day”…’cause we all know what day it really is.  That’s our motto:  “An ye hurt none, Do as ye will.”  We didn’t really mind the Christians changing the names of a bunch of our deities and putting “St.” in front of the new names. Whatever…we know who they are, they haven’t changed.  Just different words…a rose by any other name, I say.  But then, over the centuries…and with the help of some menacing threats from the Church causing us to start keeping things closer to home and even under wraps…well, it all just eventually blended together…into one “new” religion…and into the one Winter Holiday.  A big showy mass for the baby Christ…Christmas. 

Kinda silly if you ask me, because anyone that knows any Roman history would know that the census was always taken in the Spring and that’s why Mary and Joseph supposedly had to make a road trip to Bethlehem.  That, and the fact that shepherds don’t now nor ever have tended their flocks in the field in Winter…

And I didn’t even get into the whole correlation with Mithras

© 2008 D. Kessler

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As I’ve said, I’m tired.  The negativity of the mudslinging has sapped my energy and I now turn to a very different topic today.  Hallowe’en.

Hallowe’en is an important holiday for me and it’s roots are in the Celtic pagan New Year, Samhain.  (My mother and father were actually married on Hallowe’en, though neither of them were pagans…Interesting…).  Since I am, as I said, tired, I will post something from another site that puts it in a historical and understandable perspective, as I just can’t seem to deal with being La Professora today:

Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on November 1st. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night. For it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with joyous celebrations at dawn, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st, known today of course, as Halloween.

Samhain (Scots Gaelic: Samhuinn) literally means “summer’s end.” In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween is known as Oíche Shamhna, while in Wales it is Nos Calan Gaeaf, the eve of the winter’s calend, or first. With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints’ Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who the departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry of celebrations from Oct 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.

In the country year, Samhain marked the first day of winter, when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter of stable and byre. The hay that would feed them during the winter must be stored in sturdy thatched ricks, tied down securely against storms. Those destined for the table were slaughtered, after being ritually devoted to the gods in pagan times. All the harvest must be gathered in — barley, oats, wheat, turnips, and apples — for come November, the faeries would blast every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries remaining on the hedgerows. Peat and wood for winter fires were stacked high by the hearth. It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together baking, salting meat, and making preserves for the winter feasts to come. The endless horizons of summer gave way to a warm, dim and often smoky room; the symphony of summer sounds was replaced by a counterpoint of voices, young and old, human and animal.

In early Ireland, people gathered at the ritual centers of the tribes, for Samhain was the principal calendar feast of the year. The greatest assembly was the ‘Feast of Tara,’ focusing on the royal seat of the High King as the heart of the sacred land, the point of conception for the new year. In every household throughout the country, hearth-fires were extinguished. All waited for the Druids to light the new fire of the year — not at Tara, but at Tlachtga, a hill twelve miles to the north-west. It marked the burial-place of Tlachtga, daughter of the great druid Mogh Ruith, who may once have been a goddess in her own right in a former age.

At at all the turning points of the Celtic year, the gods drew near to Earth at Samhain, so many sacrifices and gifts were offered up in thanksgiving for the harvest. Personal prayers in the form of objects symbolizing the wishes of supplicants or ailments to be healed were cast into the fire, and at the end of the ceremonies, brands were lit from the great fire of Tara to re-kindle all the home fires of the tribe, as at Beltane. As they received the flame that marked this time of beginnings, people surely felt a sense of the kindling of new dreams, projects and hopes for the year to come.

The Samhain fires continued to blaze down the centuries. In the 1860s the Halloween bonfires were still so popular in Scotland that one traveler reported seeing thirty fires lighting up the hillsides all on one night, each surrounded by rings of dancing figures, a practice which continued up to the first World War. Young people and servants lit brands from the fire and ran around the fields and hedges of house and farm, while community leaders surrounded parish boundaries with a magic circle of light. Afterwards, ashes from the fires were sprinkled over the fields to protect them during the winter months — and of course, they also improved the soil. The bonfire provided an island of light within the oncoming tide of winter darkness, keeping away cold, discomfort, and evil spirits long before electricity illumined our nights. When the last flame sank down, it was time to run as fast as you could for home, raising the cry, “The black sow without a tail take the hindmost!”

Even today, bonfires light up the skies in many parts of the British Isles and Ireland at this season, although in many areas of Britain their significance has been co-opted by Guy Fawkes Day, which falls on November 5th, and commemorates an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the English Houses of Parliament in the 17th century. In one Devonshire village, the extraordinary sight of both men and women running through the streets with blazing tar barrels on their backs can still be seen! Whatever the reason, there will probably always be a human need to make fires against the winter’s dark.

Samhain was [and is still amongst certain circles, pun intended] a significant time for divination, perhaps even more so than May or Midsummer’s Eve, because this was the chief of the three Spirit Nights. Divination customs and games frequently featured apples and nuts from the recent harvest, and candles played an important part in adding atmosphere to the mysteries. In Scotland, a child born at Samhain was said to be gifted with an dà shealladh, “The Two Sights” commonly known as “second sight,” or clairvoyance.”

Now, as a person of Northern French decent, I feel a strong tie to all things Celtic.  Many think of Celtic in terms of only Irish or Scottish or some such faction of peoples from the British Isles.  But the fact is that the Normans, whom invaded Britain near a thousand years ago were from the Continent…and from the area known in Roman times as Northern Gaul…the area now known as France.  So, it completely makes sense that I would eventually lean this way in my spiritual meanderings,

Add to this the fact that my maternal grandfather is Mexican and I have a deep affiity to the Latin community.  Hallowe’en falls during the Mexican version of the holiday, Los Dios de los Muertos (the Days of the Dead).  The origins of Los Dios de los Muertos also have their roots in a pagan celebration:

The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to the indigenous peoples such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Mexican, Aztec, Maya, P’urhépecha, and Totonac. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years.[1] In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl,[2] known as the “Lady of the Dead,” corresponding to the modern Catrina.

In most regions of Mexico, November 1st honors deceased children and infants where as deceased adults are honored on November 2nd. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1st mainly as “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) but also as “Día de los Angelitos” (Day of the Little Angels) and November 2nd as “Día de los Muertos” or “Día de los Difuntos” (Day of the Dead).”

So, is it any wonder that I have such an interest in this holiday? 

I really don’t have much else to say…as I said, I’m tired.  But tonight I will not be out with the hoople-heads making a spectacle and mockery.  I will be at home, with my good friends, drinking and indulging in a not-so-pagan guilty pleasure…horror flicks. 

Oh, yeah…and somewhere during our own version of festivities we will raise our glasses and toast those that have come before us, or that are no longer with us, especially and including my little brother John Dmitri, mo’ Gran’mere Lucienne and mi Abuelo Mauricio.

 Johno @ B&O 082402 (crop) Lucienne Blanche Albert Petite Reyes c late 1940s Mauricio Lara Reyes c 1940s

Blessings…

world-religions Here’s the thing…

It concerns me that the word “religion” is evermore becoming synonymous with only Judeo/Christian/Islamic theologies.  While scanning around the blogosphere, I did a Google search and I had to click through quite a few pages before I got even one mention of any other belief system! 

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines religion thusly:

re·li·gion  \ri-ˈli-jən\ noun
 
– a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
– a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

So, then… ANY belief system to which one regularly and with conviction adheres is religion.  This includes, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Baha’I, Shamanism, Wicca, Rastafari, Sikism…Good grief, I could go on and on!  Better you click here for a fairly comprehensive list and additional resources of information, compliments of Wikipedia.

ANYway…

Don’t get me wrong…My mother is a Christian, as were our ancestors, and therefore she raised me as a Christian, complete with an education via church-run schools.  I respect the Judeo/Christian/Islamic theology immensely .  I just don’t agree with what comes across as the exclusion of all the other belief-systems when referring to religion, especially when Christianity and Islam together only comprise approximately 3 billion (just under half the world’s population of 6.7 billion)…and Hinduism & Buddhism (3rd & 4th, respectively) account for 1.1 billion.  This leaves 2.6 billion people’s beliefs out in the rain!

“The need of the moment is not one religion, but mutual respect and tolerance of the devotees of the different religions.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

major-world-religions If we can’t bring ourselves to learn about and discuss a varied list of religions, how can we even expect to begin to understand the world we live in and our relationship to the billions of individuals that make up that world?  The Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance has a wonderful site to kick-start such a quest… and hopefully to help initiate more discussion in Blogland.

© 2008 D. Kessler