CAT | culture
Did you know that Easter was originally a pagan festival dedicated to Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, whose consort was a hare, the forerunner of our Easter bunny? Of course you did. Every year the fecund muck of the internet bursts forth afresh with cheery did-you-know explanations like this, setting modern practices in a context of ancient and tragically interrupted pagan belief.
The trouble is that they are wrong. The colourful myths of Eostre and her hare companion, who in some versions is a bird transformed into an egg-laying rabbit, aren’t historically pagan. They are modern fabrications, cludged together in an unresearched assumption of pagan precedence.Only one piece of documentary evidence for Eostre exists: a passing mention in Bede’s The Reckoning of Time. Bede explains that the lunar month of Eosturmonath “was once called after a goddess… named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated.”
However, even this may only have been supposition on Bede’s part. In the same section he says the winter festival of Modranecht was so named “because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night,” hardly the statement of a historian with first-hand information.
Eosturmonath may simply mean “the month of opening”, appropriate for a time of opening buds and arguably a better fit for the rest of the Anglo-Saxon months. They tended to be named after agricultural or meteorological events, hence “mud-month” and “blood-month”. Only one other month is, according to Bede, named after a goddess – Hrethmonath – and like Eostre, there is no other evidence of Hretha anywhere.
Known Anglo-Saxon deities like Woden and Thor are paralleled in Norse and Germanic pre-Christian religion, but there are no such equivalents to Bede’s Eostre and Hretha, which strengthens the case for them being inventions. Grimm explored the possibility of a German “Ostara” in Deutsche Mythologie, but in the absence of any primary evidence, all he could produce was conjecture. We’re also left wondering why, if Eosturmonath really was named after a pagan goddess, the staunch Christian Charlemagne chose it to replace the old Roman name of April.
There are no images of Eostre, no carvings, no legends, and no association with hares, rabbits or eggs. Yet a swift Google search turns up heaps of repeated Eostre lore. Even the usually formidable Snopes.com allocates Eostre her customary sacred hare, without any historical justification. So where do the tales come from?
The answer is found in the recent history of modern self-identified paganism. Back in the days when Catweazle was on telly, the movement was inchoate, disparate and in urgent need of roots. It was in the difficult position of claiming moral heirship from ancient pre-Christian religion, but having very few credentials to back that up.
Usefully, though, there was already a tendency (stemming from Victorian anthropology) to imagine repressed pagan roots dangling from anything sufficiently working class and folksy; and though academia had moved away from this, pagan revivalism had not. By asserting Christian appropriation of pagan customs as fact, modern paganism could claim both precedence and wrongful treatment, citing Pope Gregory’s letter as if that settled it.
Pagan origins were thus claimed for everything from Father Christmas to Morris dancing and the Easter bunny was retroactively recast as Eostre’s sacred hare, grafting a faked pagan provenance on to a creature first mentioned as late as 1682. A Ukranian folk tale about the origins of pysanky, painted eggs, was rewritten to star Eostre and her bunny. Some still claim Eostre’s name is the root of the word oestrogen, ignoring that human eggs are microscopic and that the real etymology of oestrogen in fact relates to the gadfly….
Oh well, there is (as I noted in a post entitled—ahem—“Happy Eostre”) always this (from another Guardian piece):
In an ironic twist, the Cybele cult flourished on today’s Vatican Hill. Cybele’s lover Attis, was born of a virgin, died and was reborn annually. This spring festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday, rising to a crescendo after three days, in rejoicing over the resurrection. There was violent conflict on Vatican Hill in the early days of Christianity between the Jesus worshippers and pagans who quarrelled over whose God was the true, and whose the imitation. What is interesting to note here is that in the ancient world, wherever you had popular resurrected god myths, Christianity found lots of converts.
The not always entirely reliable Sir James Fraser had quite a bit to say about Attis in The Golden Bough.
Another of those gods whose supposed death and resurrection struck such deep roots into the faith and ritual of Western Asia is Attis. He was to Phrygia what Adonis was to Syria. Like Adonis, he appears to have been a god of vegetation, and his death and resurrection were annually mourned and rejoiced over at a festival in spring. The legends and rites of the two gods were so much alike that the ancients themselves sometimes identified them. Attis was said to have been a fair young shepherd or herdsman beloved by Cybele, the Mother of the Gods, a great Asiatic goddess of fertility, who had her chief home in Phrygia. Some held that Attis was her son. His birth, like that of many other heroes, is said to have been miraculous. His mother, Nana, was a virgin, who conceived by putting a ripe almond or a pomegranate in her bosom.
…The great spring festival of Cybele and Attis is best known to us in the form in which it was celebrated at Rome; but as we are informed that the Roman ceremonies were also Phrygian, we may assume that they differed hardly, if at all, from their Asiatic original. The order of the festival seems to have been as follows.
On the twenty-second day of March, a pine-tree was cut in the woods and brought into the sanctuary of Cybele, where it was treated as a great divinity. The duty of carrying the sacred tree was entrusted to a guild of Tree-bearers. The trunk was swathed like a corpse with woollen bands and decked with wreaths of violets, for violets were said to have sprung from the blood of Attis, as roses and anemones from the blood of Adonis; and the effigy of a young man, doubtless Attis himself, was tied to the middle of the stem…
There is, of course, nothing wrong with syncretism, so in the spirit of what this day now is: Happy Easter!
This will be fun.
So, the anti-Trump hysteria has reached a fevered pitch, with the unsurprising adherence to Godwin’s law in full effect. “He’s Hitler,” proclaims people supremely annoyed by Donald Trump’s over-the-top rhetoric. (Meditate on that for a second.) See for yourself:
Put more succinctly:
And of course the “hate speech” trope is levied on the Trump, and with gusto:
The eagerness to disown – or in social media parlance, defriend – anyone who has warm feelings toward Trump (I suppose I’d include myself among them, by default; you don’t criticize people who hate Trump without suggesting that you don’t) is also on full display:
Don’t argue. Don’t even try to debate. Just go away.
Another Facebook acquaintance upped the ante, opting to do the dirty work of mass defriending all by himself. After all, you can’t trust Trump supporters to choose to remove themselves from your cyberlife. You have to go find them. Root them out!
Yikes. Note the third comment, however. Perhaps a glimmer of hope.
The dig at “uneducated white guys,” from a white guy no less, gives credence to the notion of a deep and growing cultural civil war among whites, in which minorities act mostly as abstractions with which to score political-moral victories over lesser paleskins. It’s a somewhat pathetic state of affairs, but here we are.
The New Atheist’s interview with Salon – a publication largely hostile to the Bertrand Russell-style liberalism of Harris and his ilk – is better read at Harris’s own website, in its unedited form. (A portion of the interview that badmouths Salon was cut by the site, not shockingly.) Below are some choice excerpts.
On American foreign policy and Islam:
You can make the list of U.S. crimes and missteps as long as you want, but it still doesn’t explain ISIS. The fact that we invaded Iraq is merely a background condition for a local explosion of jihadist triumphalism and horror – one that is fully explained by a commitment to a specific interpretation of Islamic scripture. Medical students and engineers, who are second- and third-generation British citizens, have joined ISIS. There is nothing about Western foreign policy, global capitalism, or white privilege that explains this.
I agree that the history of colonialism isn’t pretty, but….there are (or were) Christians living in all these beleaguered countries. How many Christian suicide bombers have there been? Where are the Pakistani, Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, and Palestinian Christians who are blowing themselves up in crowds of noncombatants?
On the problems of the multicultural left:
These people are part of what has been termed the “regressive Left” – pseudo-liberals who are so blinded by identity politics that they reliably take the side of a backward mob over one of its victims. Rather than protect individual women, apostates, intellectuals, cartoonists, novelists, and true liberals from the intolerance of religious imbeciles, they protect these theocrats from criticism.
On religion and the GOP:
Ben Carson is a perfect example of how even the process of becoming a neurosurgeon is insufficient to correct for this indoctrination. It’s astonishing: The man is both a celebrated neurosurgeon and a moron. Apparently, becoming a neurosurgeon can be like becoming an electrician or a plumber—you can learn it like a trade, and your mind can remain more or less untouched by the scientific worldview.
I felt that I glimpsed the possibility of Christian theocracy in the U.S. when Sarah Palin addressed the Republican National Convention. She was at the height of her powers, and she hadn’t yet unraveled in those interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. This was terrifying—because I knew her to be both a religious lunatic and total ignoramus. The fact that she had any chance of acquiring so much power and responsibility seemed to make a mockery of the entire career of our species.
On the potential of P.C. mission creep to leave only fringy undesirables asking the probing questions:
I worry that such Christian demagoguery could become even more attractive politically because the secular Left has made it so painful to speak about the threat of political Islam. By conflating any focus on Islamism and jihadism with bigotry, there may come a time when only real bigots and Christian theocrats will be willing to address the problem. And they could gain political power because then even sane, secular people might feel that they have no other choice [see the appeal of Marine Le Pen to a surprising number of gay voters].
That’s according to new research on display in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion:
This article reports the results of a nationwide audit study testing how Christian churches welcome potential newcomers to their churches as a function of newcomers’ race and ethnicity. We sent email inquiries to 3,120 churches across the United States. The emails were ostensibly from someone moving to the area and looking for a new church to attend. That person’s name was randomly varied to convey different racial and ethnic associations. In response to these inquiries, representatives from mainline Protestant churches—who generally embrace liberal, egalitarian attitudes toward race relations—actually demonstrated the most discriminatory behavior. They responded most frequently to emails with white-sounding names, somewhat less frequently to black- or Hispanic-sounding names, and much less to Asian-sounding names. They also sent shorter, less welcoming responses to nonwhite names. In contrast, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches showed little variation across treatment groups in their responses.
Oregon shooter Chris Mercer disliked organized religion and considered himself “conservative, republican.” This according to the Daily Beast.
But then, an attempt to paint Mercer as a righty runs into problems. He also expressed sympathy for the race-card-playing black Roanoke shooter, e.g., and is himself half black (which sadly matters, even if that says more about the observers of these atrocities). On the other hand he appeared to be critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Though he loved guns, he also had beef with Christians, as those scary accounts of his actions Thursday inform us.
Secular rightists of course have a greater beef with Islam, not Christianity. (I’d say if forced to choose, but it’s not even a contest.)
The New York Times reports that Mercer chimed in on the topic of “commercialism” in online forums, which would suggest a progressive’s form of discontent – it’s unlikely he was approvingly citing passages from Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture, afterall – but then that’s not much to go on.
No, all we really know is that Mercer was in awe of the negative attention mass murder grabs; he liked guns; he had problems attracting women; and he might have had Asperger’s. There’s a manifesto apparently in police custody, but since Mercer opted to go the typewriter route ala 1965 and not post it on Medium, it’s not publicly viewable.
I think the blogger formerly known as Half Sigma might have it right: Beta Male Rage.
Over on his blog, Sam Harris interviews Mark Riebling, the author of Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler. The historical ground covered is interesting—how could it not be?—but these passages, in particular, caught my attention:
Conservative, even authoritarian, religious structures can prove extremely helpful against revolutionaries who want to impose a far more radical, utopian political religion. If Sunni Islam had a hierarchy, we would see many of its leaders resist ISIS more effectively. By comparison, you are seeing the Shia capable of counteraction, not just because they are anti-Sunni, but because they have a clerical hierarchy.
The Sunni conservatives will at some point have to either fight the revolutionaries or obey them. It was similar in Cambodia under Pol Pot—finally the old-line communists in that part of the world couldn’t take it anymore. Likewise, who is now sending troops to prop up an authoritarian Assad to stop ISIS?
The former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Which should remind us that in the former Soviet Union, glasnost and perestroika did not come from “the Russian people.” They began within the most elite ranks of the Party—the KGB. I think the pope’s secret war against Hitler should be grouped with this family of phenomena—authoritarian resistance to totalitarianism.
And this (my emphasis added):
For half a century, the Marxist myth of the New Man was fairly successful in supplanting the old stories—but the magic’s gone out of that, too. So you have, unless you are mindful, a banalization of human experience. This banality is going to tempt some people to join ISIS for excitement, for re-enchantment, for remythification.
If you join ISIS, you have a story! Your life is numinous—it’s as if you’re living in the Iliad instead of, say, just playing soccer in the dust in a Bauhaus housing project in Basra. Or you’re channeling the Teutonic Knights while you’re horsewhipping Jews in 1930s Nuremburg—I think the personal hunger is the same.
As C.G. Jung said, you can chase out the devil, but he shows up somewhere else. Which is one reason why, when Jung was an agent for US intelligence in 1944, he urged propping up political Catholicism—in fact, through the Christian-socialist parties that came to dominate Cold War Europe, whose exiled leaders Pius sheltered in the Vatican. Jung was an atheist, but he preferred Christian socialism to the atheist communism he saw coming. He predicted that the freethinking atheist would fare better under the frowning brow of the Christian myth than under the trampling boot of the communist one.
Jung was a nut, but he had moments of clarity.
That’s the title of John McWhorter’s excellent piece at The Daily Beast. He looks at the rhetoric of the Blacks Lives Matter movement and its acolytes and finds all the trappings of a new and only nominally secular religion. It’s essentially liturgy, as he explained in a recent Bloggingheads convo.
Fans of writer Sarah Perry and her musings on the sacralization of politics will see similar themes at work in McWhorter’s article.
I remember when atheism was clearly aligned with the left. It was a mere decade ago or so that stem cell research and sundry other hot-button issues characterized the distinction between the atheist liberal community and the Bush-loving, religious conservative community.
Remember Leon Kass and the Council on Bioethics?
But in 2015, with identity politics not only ascendant but nearly firmly in place, atheism is switching sides. Or that’s the impression one gets from this summary of a Dawkins/Dennett talk in Boston by Geoffrey Lee Hodge of the secular progressive TheHumanist.com in a piece called “Advancing the Atheist Movement: Dawkins, Dennett, and the Second Wave.” Hodge takes issue with DD’s reluctance to break bread with liberal Christians:
It should come as no surprise that insulting someone’s beliefs is not an effective way to change their viewpoint. What is surprising is that even facts are often ineffective and sometimes even detrimental to changing someone’s mind. To succeed, the atheist movement needs to win not just the minds of moderate believers, but their hearts as well. The overwhelming success of the gay marriage campaign in the US has not been due to a sudden increase in the number of people identifying as gay; the movement has succeeded because more and more moderate heterosexuals are convinced that it’s unfair to limit access to marriage based on ancient discriminatory beliefs held by some religions. Nor has other social change occurred due to a sudden increase in the numbers of women or African Americans
Liberal churches address a need for spirituality and community without the harmful fundamentalist insistence that the rest of the world must conform to their ideas.
Hodge is correct that the political landscape isn’t changing due to sudden bursts in the gay or black population. It’s changing because a largely white and progressive media/professional class has changing interests. And you see it on display here. Instead of encouraging DD and their fans to reach out, say, to more black and brown atheists, Hodge encourages atheists to be less fond of atheism, to, one supposes, encourage more black and brown (and female) interest.
(Of course, appealing to the interests of a minority within a minority might seem an uber-progressive endeavor. But we all know that if you go too far down that road, you may very well end up in Ayn Rand “the ultimate minority is the individual” territory, where NO progressive wants to be.)
Hodge is right to point out that people are hardwired to be religious, and any overly zealous atheist movement is likely to find itself irrelevant, politically. In a democracy, anyway. But it’s remarkable to see that even among the atheist left, the atheism comes second. Maybe even a distant second. There’s been a distinct shift away from touting the benefits of a zero-tolerance policy with regard to anti-scientific thinking, and toward an obsession with the sex and race of the people doing the touting. What’s being talked about is less important than who’s doing the talking.
Less substance, more style.
No wonder godlessness is becoming associated with the right, who are increasingly difficult to distinguish from “problematic” liberals. Like Dawkins.
A mysterious noise from the sky is continuing to baffle people all over the world – as well as giving those who hear it sleepless nights. Sounding like a trumpet or a collective from a brass section of an orchestra, a selection of videos shot from the Canada to Ukraine, via the U.S., Germany and Belarus show strange goings on above us.And the eerie sounds have been continuously heard at all different times and locations for almost a decade.
True to form, the Daily Mail looks into what could be going on and comes up with a number of theories including tectonic plates, aliens and, of course, the apocalyspe:
Seven trumpets are sounded, one at a time, to cue apocalyptic events that were seen in the vision of the Revelation of Christ Jesus, by John of Patmos. Somewhat more worrying as it would signal the end of the world…
“Somewhat more worrying”.
English understatement is not dead.
Full story here (my ability to link seems to have disappeared):
Posted on the Corner last week:
The Economist clearly cannot wait to see the forthcoming encyclical on the environment:
Could Pope Francis become the world’s foremost campaigner on global warming? That is certainly the fondest hope (or in a few cases the darkest fear) of a lot of people who are closely involved in deliberations over the planet’s future. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, met the pontiff today and shared his mounting concern over the outcome of the Paris summit on climate change in December which is widely seen as the last opportunity for a global deal to manage carbon emissions and set some limit to rising temperatures.
Immediately afterwards, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an important part of the Vatican’s intellectual armoury, convened a brainstorming session with the UN secretariat and a gaggle of NGOs, including the New-York based Earth Institute, a study centre which advises the UN on sustainable development: at the Vatican’s behest, the agenda included not just climate change but forced migration and human trafficking, a scourge which has been exacerbated by desertification.
Elsewhere in the Italian capital, some strident climate-change sceptics from the Heartland Institute, a right-wing American organisation devoted to spreading climate-change scepticism, were urging the Pope not to believe in man-made global warming; the institute insists that claims of a human contribution to heating the planet are unfounded, and that proposals to mitigate climate change amount to “shutting down” the world economy.
This offers a hint of the flak that Pope Francis can expect from the religious right, including many Catholics, when he visits America later this year…
In keeping with the tone of what is a cleverly one-sided article, it is, I notice, only skeptics who earn that adjective “strident”.
Over at Breitbart, James Delingpole, who seems to have traveled to Rome in, well, “strident” company, describes a somewhat stage-managed press conference held at the Vatican with Ban-Ki Moon, but perhaps the most interesting item in his report are these comments from the UN Secretary-General:
I don’t think faith leaders should be scientists…What I want is their moral authority. Business leaders and all civil society is on board [with the mission to combat climate change]. Now we want faith leaders. Then we can make it happen.
All civil society? That may not be strident, but it’s certainly an exaggeration and, when you stop to think about it, just a little bit sinister.
Meanwhile this document has come out of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Here’s just one sentence that caught my eye:
The problem is not one of how well our children and grandchildren will fare in the world of the future, but whether civilization as we know it can be extended beyond the next 100 years.
And the beginning of another sentence:
Our problems have been exacerbated by the current economic obsession that measures human progress solely in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth…
Strident much? But take the time to read the whole thing.
As you do so, remember that, for all the scientific discussion (which concerns not only what may or may not be going on, but what should be done about it) and the religious ‘frame’ within which the argument is set out, this is also a profoundly political document and, as such, it must, at least partly, be judged.