Sitting on my couch my dim perception of the world around me thought it noticed a single snowflake fall outside of my patio doors. My experiences in Iraq have turned my mind into something similar to a raven’s. That is it notices things things in the environment that are different. It isn’t so much that an object is shiny that a raven will grab it, but that it is novel. Fitting that ravens are associated with The Morrigan, Celtic goddess of war, to whom I gave homage to before many a patrol in Iraq. As my attention focused on the outside world I chided myself that it was not a snowflake that I saw. Outside the windows the view reaffirmed my position and I turned back toward the boob tube. Thirty minutes later I looked up to see it begin to snow and in an almost childish exuberance I put on some clothing, grabbed some binos, and went outside to Fanno Creek Park. I also stopped by a Starbucks and asked the barista to make me her favorite coffee drink, large, with an add-shot in it. She started to warn me about sweetness and so forth and I assured her that I am open to any drink that they can make. At times I desire my black coffee or a mocha. However there are times when there is no need of caffeine, such as during finals week when I will order black coffee and add a packet of VIA to it for more kick. At such times what I am looking for is variety, for experience, for being present with something. It is, again, the mind of the raven seeking novelty.
Back in the park I walked around and took joy from the accumulation of snow. In the hour that I was outside I could hear the rush hour traffic begin to bog down under the stressful conditions of ice and snow as the tell-tale sounds of emergency vehicle sirens would float over the wind from every direction. Portland does not get enough snow for its citizens to be proficient snow-drivers upon first appearance of the fluffy stuff. I watched someone playfully toss snowballs for her dog who was equally happy to chase after them and then become baffled as to where they disappeared to and hurry back to its owner. Kids walked around with gleeful anticipation of snowmen and sledding and I noted a pair of sleds held by waiting youngsters. I also noted a shift in the consistency of the snow to that of sleet. Yet as I turned toward home and the sun turned toward the horizon’s edge the fluffy flakes reappeared and soon the land was blanketed in white. Later, when all was dark outside, from within my apartment I could hear the sounds of children outside laughing in the snow.
I could not help but think about something I read online during a play session of World of Warcraft about a holiday celebrated in this ‘virtual world’ called Winter Veil. When I read it I said aloud to myself this is a very pagan thing to do. It is not unlike some of our celebrations of the Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Yule, or others. It did my heart good to see a group of people at the restaurant I work at exchanging gifts and enjoying each other’s company in fellowship and mirth on the 21st as they celebrated the solstice. There has a been a lot of talk and anger from Christians about calling the usual decorated trees holiday trees instead of a Christmas tree. I wonder where they think they got the tradition from in the first place? Modern Christians, who are so vocal against non Christian religions, ought to take an honest assessment of their own heritage and see the enormous influence that paganism has had on the Christian religion. Aside from some core ideas of transmutation of the soul, a hierarchy of beings and teleology, as well as the transcendent nature of the spiritual (pure) over the physical (impure) world – all pagan in origin – they should at least get rid of the celebrations of Halloween and Easter bunnies. However such is not needed. There is nothing wrong with a religion adopting practices of another religion. The Catholics were not the first the use prayer beads, nor the only ones to use the rosary today. And rebirth and renewal, as well as honoring one’s dead ancestors, are themes that many different religions can celebrate. In this time of year we have varying themes of a slowing down of the world, of the coming hardships of winter, of hibernation, of a time when people stayed indoors and (in close proximity) became more social. Summer was a time to prepare for the harvest. Winter was a down-time. Also, in varying mythologies there is born the child of light, or a child of promise, whether a religion speaks of a prophesized one or instead the themes or renewal and rebirth are symbolized by a child. No serious Christian historian today asserts that Jesus was born in December (his birth was likely in the Spring). However the already in place practices and meanings of the pagan country folk were as such that the church followed a well-worn practice of placing church customs atop already existent pagan customs. Thus the Christ was officially fixed in December by Exiguus in 525 C.E. (I use ‘common era’ instead of A.D.)
Many modern Christians have completely broken away with Jesus the historical man and instead are followers of a symbolic one, one which has morphed into an altogether different meaning (it would seem) than what we are told to believe at first. The bumper stickers and t-shirts do have a point, who would Jesus bomb? Unlike many of the pro-war right wingers that thank me for my service as a veteran, I have read Augustine’s wrestling with the pacifism of Christianity of his time with the need to support a strong Roman military. Very simply it goes that Christians, long prosecuted for the rebel rousers they were by Romans (associated as they were with the Jewish revolutionaries and bickering amongst themselves over the ‘correct’ version of Christianity) found themselves the ‘official’ religion of the lumbering Roman Empire. The status quo is a hard thing to give up and the only way to support an empire is to remain an empire – military force. How does a pacifist justify violence? Enter Augustine. But this is not a post on Just War Theory. Yet in the link posted before it is written by the commentator that “ALL” scripture is the inspired word of God, including the Old Testament. The writer uses the Old Testament to support war. One might also then use the Old Testament to support stoning of women, killing witches, selling people into slavery, and slaughtering women and children in a warring city. And, believe it or not, I’ve gotten some Christians to admit that they would do these things as dictated in the Old Testament.
It is those sort of Christians that would burn someone at the stake, would torture someone into converting to Christianity in order to save their immortal soul that are big motors in the hate and easily blend in with decent people at a church picnic. I met a couple in Arkansas who harassed me, and a few others, constantly to convert. We never bothered anyone with our beliefs but this couple was not happy with that. They said that God’s commandment was to convert sinners and that not doing everything they could to fulfill this would subject themselves to God’s judgment. It is a very, very easy slope to follow for internment and torture should a few other things occur. Christians in the U.S. have their own version of the Taliban to contend with and they ought to be as vocal and direct in combating hate in their own religion as they demand of Muslims. Hard to do when so much of our culture is that of greed and selfishness and yet many of the people who are filled with greed and selfishness are also supposed practicing Christians who seemed to have forgotten Philippians 2:3, or the story of the Good Samaritan. It boggles my mind that a person can, in the same breath, condemn me for not being Christian, lament the loss of American morality because it is a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree, vocalize for more troops to be sent to Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and anyone else who wants a fight, and yet also foam at the mouth and pull their hair at the word universal healthcare as though it were a great evil, while at the same time driving to a court to get a divorce in their heterosexual marriage and vote NO against gay marriage because it would ruin the sanctity of marriage. There is a term for this… schizophrenia.
But things ought not be so dire, so combative, so distressful. What is something that we can all agree upon? Do not say ‘agree to disagree’. That is a big cop out. But I believe we can start someplace… perhaps the Beatles. Back to Yule, Christmas, Winter Veil, the Winter Solstice… celebrate it. Common to all of our separate traditions are the things I listed above. Imagine this time when most everyone in the country, of varying religions, find commonality in our shared traditions. Is it really bad if a fire department in some small town has a Christmas tree? If we have the holidays it would not be, but if we listen to that fanatical group of evangelicals who insist theirs is the only true religion, then yes it is. There are nativity scenes in cities across the America, on municipal property. Instead of taking them down, put up other holiday symbols as well such a pentagrams and such. Yet in New York and Wisconsin and other places, such pagan and Wiccan displays are often vandalized. Again, arrogance of a schizophrenic religious group that believe their way is the only way and are prone to violence against them. Note, looking at the term violence as used in domestic violence counseling, violence has other aspects than purely physical.
I understand the fears that some Christians have. There is this place they believe in called Hell. It used to scare the heck out me to think about it, until I managed to finally rid myself of the thoughts and beliefs with which I was raised (see ‘brainwashing’). I do not label it brainwashing as an attack. The belief in hell is tied with various things, among them a means to control the populace by the church over the centuries, to keep power in competition with the feudal lords at the time who had the swords, a need for a sense of justice in the world, a fantasy of early Christians of the Roman Empire crumbling, and so on. On a side note, my personal thesis on PTSD has to do with heavy leanings toward a life’s purpose and a sense of justice (whether from a god or the universe or karma) and exposure to severe trauma that questions these assumptions.
Yet with the fears of Christians to be judged for not saving souls, I would ask by what way would Jesus have you convert people? To outlaw everything that could possibly lead to sin (and Christians are fond of their lists of sin, EVERYTHING is of the devil) and attack people out of hate (turn on right wing radio and send a dollar to my PayPal account every time the host yells at the mic. I’ll have college paid off in no time flat). What if, instead, while we pagans try to live our pagan values (and they are all quite varied by tradition), and other religions tried to live by their values, those real Christians out there showed their presence in their communities and lived their own religion as Jesus taught them. Note also that it is easy for someone on late night t.v. to call us pagans the wolves in sheep clothing that is referred to in the sermon on the mount. But the parable really speaks to the flock, of what appears as other sheep. It didn’t say beware of the cows and horses and so on, but that which looks like sheep. In other words, yourselves. In other words, don’t follow the greedy, selfish, quick to war for oil and corporate interests, right wing peddlers of hate that have taken over the terms religion and Christianity and morality in our political debates (a laughable term, it is really political grandstanding). Live the values that Christ taught, love your neighbor, show kindness, and so on.
And together, this season, Christians, pagans, Wiccans, and many others can celebrate the reason for the season, that of renewed hope, of fellowship, of love. And if there is a God (or a Goddess), isn’t this a good way of honoring Him and/or Her?