‘Pagan renaissance is overdue. It is necessary
for Europe to heal its psyche.Under Christianity,
Europe learned to reject its ancestors, its past,
which cannot be good for its future also. Europe
became sick because it tore apart from its own heritage,
it had to deny its very roots. If Europe is to be healed
spiritually, it must recover its spiritual past–at least,
it should not hold it in such dishonor’ Ram Swarup
Ex PM David Cameron had insisted that Britain remains a Christian country. Is this an attempt to rediscover national roots in the wake of electoral inroads by UKIP, or the imminent secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom? The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, countered by saying we are now in a post-Christian country.
On the other hand his successor as head of the established Church of England , Most Rev Justin Welby, has supported Prime Minister Cameron because the British system of law and ethics is based upon Christianity. Surprising support has come from minority faith leaders, with even some self-appointed Hindu leaders and spokesmen backing Cameron’s claim. The argument is that just as Britain is a Christian country, so it follows that India is a Hindu one.
This is however a false parallel. Christianity relies on obeying a set of beliefs and divine sanctions. Take that away and you have a more universal set of ethics which dates back to a pagan past. Indeed what remains of Christianity are indeed these original pagan beliefs. As Europe became Christianized, the pagan holidays lost their religious character and either changed into popular secular celebrations, as with May Day, or were merged with or replaced by new Christian holidays as with Christmas, Easter, and All Saint’s Day. ‘Hindu’ is an ethno-geographic term, with Hinduism encompassing many creeds and schools of thought united by the concept of Dharma.
Christmas is based upon a pagan winter festival of which the use of the tree is the most poignant reminder. Yule or Yuletide (“Yule time”) was a pagan religious festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples, later being absorbed into and equated with the Christian festival of Christmas, connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Modranicht. The earliest references to it are in the form of month names, where the Yule-tide period lasts somewhere around two months in length, falling along the end of the modern calendar year between what is now mid-November and early January, as a midwinter festival.
Going further east, we find that the pagan Slavs had their winter festival of Koliada, also incorporated into Christmas. The long white beard of Santa Claus is derived from Odin, the leader of the wild hunt and he bears the Old Norse names Jólnir, meaning “yule figure” and the name Langbarðr, meaning “long-beard”
So how did this pagan festival become Christmas? The Saga of Hákon the Good credits King Haakon I of Norway with the Christianization of Norway as well as rescheduling the date of Yule to coincide with Christian celebrations held at the time. It was a similar pattern elsewhere. In deference to Cameron’s Anglo-Saxon past and search for meaning as Scotland tries to sever its links to England, let us look at what he medieval English historian Bede observed in his 8th-century Latin work De temporum ratione. Mōdraniht (Old English “Night of the Mothers” or “Mothers’-night”) was an event held at what is now Christmas Eve by the Anglo-Saxon Pagans. In Eostur-monath Aprilis (April), a spring festival was celebrated, dedicated to the goddess Eostre.
Ēostre or Ostara (Old English: Ēastre, Northumbrian dialect Ēostre; Old High German: *Ôstara) is a Germanic divinity who, by way of the Germanic month bearing her name (Northumbrian: Ēosturmōnaþ; West Saxon: Ēastermōnaþ; Old High German: Ôstarmânoth), is the namesake of the festival of Easter, as the later Christian festival of Easter took its name from this month and its goddess. Even traditional British May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a maypole derives from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held during “Þrimilci-mōnaþ” (the Old English name for the month of May meaning Month of Three Milkings).
Now coming to actual belief, the 2011 census found 59% of people in England and Wales said they were Christians – down from 72% a decade earlier. In Scotland the figure was 54% – down from 65% – while the percentage fell slightly to 83% in Northern Ireland. But these figures do not tell the whole story. Much of the attendance is actually by staunch Roman Catholic immigrants from Poland, or the evangelical churches such as Jesus House led by Nigerians.
In actual attendance, more people attend mosque than church. The most honest comment has perhaps come from Peter Hitchens, Daily Mail columnist and staunch Anglican. The younger brother of the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, Peter has said that Christian faith is only important to Cameron when like so many others he is trying to get his children into a ‘faith’ school, where standards are said to be higher than most of the state sector.
Indeed the numbers of children and parents attending mass does show a rather interesting increase when trying to gain entry into local Catholic schools. In 2007 that very same newspaper reported that the Sikh parents of four-year old Maya Kaur converted to Catholicism to ensure that their daughter got into Catholic school in Cleveland.
In a poignant and sombre reminder of the destruction of ancient Britain’s ancient Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and pagan roots, it is power not actual conviction that enforced this conversion. Outward displays of Christianity however cannot hide the decline of a belief system that was enforced at various times over the last 2000 years. If Cameron wanted to be true to his ancient roots, he would have embraced the pagan beliefs which Christianity uprooted in Britain.
With the reality of a now post-Christian society, perhaps now the inhabitants of the British Isles can look to India and see how these beliefs decried by Christianity as heathen and idolatry, not only survived but thrived. India offers post-Christian Britain a beacon of renewed spirituality, already begin by the explosion of interest in yoga, meditation and the New Age.
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