Saturday December 7, 2019

New pagan temple in Iceland marks the revival of European Paganism

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By Nithin Sridhar

“The old Gods are not dead; they have only withdrawn themselves. If there is sufficient aspiration, invoking, and soliciting, there is no doubt that even Gods apparently lost could come back again. They are there all the time. For nothing that has any truth in it can be destroyed. It merely goes out of manifestation; but it could reappear under propitious circumstances. So could the old Gods come to life again in response to new summons”- The Word as Revelation, Ram Swarup.

Iceland is about to get its first pagan temple dedicated to the Norse Gods Thor, Odin and Frigg in about 1000 years. The temple that is proposed to be built on a wooded hill overlooking the capital Reykjavik will serve as a place for Asatru pagans to perform marriage, name giving and funeral ceremonies and hold feasts called “blot”.

The Norse paganism flourished in Iceland until 1000 AD when it was overthrown and uprooted by the spread of Christianity. The last major temple dedicated to the Norse gods in Northern Europe was the Temple at Uppsala, in Sweden built by the Vikings in 1070 AD. It was also dedicated to the Gods Thor, Odin and Frigg. The Asatru temple in Iceland attains significance when it is understood from the perspective of wider Pagan revival movement in Europe.

Paganism and Christianity

Before the advent of Christianity, various Indigenous religious systems flourished in Europe. The Celtic polytheism was practiced by Celts in Western Europe and the Baltics and Slavs had their own native religious systems (Baltic Paganism and Slavic Paganism).

Norse Paganism was practiced by North Germanic and Scandinavian people and the people of Greece and Rome had their own philosophy and religious practices.

The rise of Christianity resulted in a decline and eventual death of various indigenous religious systems. The conversion into Christianity on his death bed of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great who ruled between 306-337 CE, gave a death blow to various Pagan religious practices.

Following this legalization of Christianity and its acceptance as the state religion, the persecution of Pagans began and their temples were razed down.

Constantine’s son Constantius II then brought the first anti-Pagan law that banned construction of new temples and banned all sacrifices. Between 381-391 CE, Theodosian I completely banned Paganism through what is now famous as “Theodosian decrees” and authorized the destruction of many temples, holy sites, images and objects of piety throughout the empire.

Apart from the use of force, Christianity also used the process of inculturation, by absorbing the symbols of pagan practices and giving them new Christian meanings (Example: The Sun festival of Mithraism was appropriated as Christmas).  Hence, through a combined effort of evangelism, inculturation, violence, politics and use of power the Pagan practices were destroyed.

Paganism and Monotheism

Paganism was rooted in a wide range of beliefs and practices ranging from polytheism and pantheism to animism and nature worship.

It had no definite set of rules and no dogmas that every follower had to adhere to. It was rooted in belief of multiple Gods who represented various aspects of nature and Universe.

Ram Swarup describes Pagan Gods as being “pretty fulfilling and they inspired the best of men and women to acts of greatness, love, nobility, sacrifice and heroism”.

On the other hand, he explains that the central piece of Monotheism is- “One True God of masculine gender who makes himself known to his believers through an equally favored individual.” Hence, Christianity which is deeply rooted in Monotheism, stands on the belief in One True God, One Book and One Savior.

This non-dogmatic and unorganized manner of the Paganism along with its religious tolerance proved as a weakness which was taken advantage by the Christianity that was well organized and well versed in theology.

In the words of Gilbert E. A. Grindle (in The Destruction of Paganism in Roman Empire)- “The Pagan had no definite dogmatic teaching, no sacred books whose  unquestionable authority might be appealed to. There was also a complete want of organization in the Pagan hierarchy (…) whereas Christianity while it was persecuted religion (i.e. before it was officially adopted)had the advantage of intense conviction in most of its members, which led to the spread their faith (…)enjoyed a well-organized and widely distributed body of ministers.”

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Revival of Paganism in Europe

Druids was the first pagan tradition to be restored in Britain when Irish theologian John Toland, became the first Chosen Chief of the Ancient Druid Order in 1717.

Only in 2010, the Druidry was officially recognized as a religion by the British Charity commission. Wicca was developed in England in the early half of the 20th century. Similarly, Germanic pagan groups like GermanischeGlaubens-Gemeinschaft were formed in Germany in early 20th century.

In Iceland, the Ásatrúarfélagið or the Astaru association was formed in 1972 and was recognized as a religious organization in 1973. The Romuva movement in Baltic was started in 1967. Later, they established the World Congress of Ethnic Religions (WCER) in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1998 with an agenda to help all ethnic religions groups survive and cooperate with each other.

According to the 2011 census conducted in United Kingdom, around 80,000 people in England and Wales described themselves as Pagans. Previously in 2001 census, only 42000 people had declared themselves as Pagans in England, Scotland and Wales combined.

But, Robert Hutton who published “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft” in 1999, estimates that around 2,50,000 people are pagan adherents in UK. In Lithuania, there are around 5000 people following Baltic faith (Romuva) according to 2011 census as against 1270 people reported in 2001 census. The Asatru association that started with only a handful of people currently has close to 3000 members.

This clearly shows that the Pagan movement in its various forms is increasingly growing in the recent decades and the construction of the Pagan temple dedicated to the Norse Gods that is being planned in Iceland sends a definite message that Paganism with its inherent “Unity in Diversity” is here to stay and will flourish further in the near future.

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Paganism and Hinduism

Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is the only religion and civilization that though ancient in origins, is still surviving and flourishing.

Similar to Paganism, Hinduism is rooted in a reverence to all natural and universal forces and has deeply ingrained the concept of “Unity in Diversity”. The central tenet of Hinduism is “Ekam Sat ViprahaBahudahaVadanti”- One Truth that is called by various names.

Hence, Hinduism can act as a living tradition to which the modern pagan movement can look up to as a medium to connect with its own past, take inspiration and reclaim their own ancient heritage.

Christopher Gérard, the leader of European pagan renaissance who recognized the importance of Hinduism says (as quoted in Hinduism Today July 1999)- “India is a conservatory of traditions going back into our most ancient prehistory. The Paganism of our ancestors has miraculously survived there in spite of Muslim invasions, Christian missions and all the other agents of ethnocide (the systematic destruction of a culture) (….). Yes, India is the land of the Gods par excellence. The experience of the divine presence in India is within the reach of anyone who searches even a little bit. As true Pagans, they feel no need to convert anyone.”

A similar sentiment regarding the role of Hinduism, in the rise and revival of European Paganism is expressed by Ram Swarup as well- “I believe that Hinduism has a very important role in the religious self-recovery of humanity, particularly of Europe. The reason is simple. Hinduism represents the most ancient tradition which is still alive. It has preserved in its bosom the whole spiritual past of humanity.

For self-recovery, these countries have to revive their old gods. But this is a task which cannot be done mechanically. They have to recapture the consciousness which expressed itself in the language of many gods. Here, India can help them with its tradition of yoga. (….)

Hence, the construction of the Pagan temple in Iceland marks an important step in the revival of European paganism that will help Europeans to reconnect with their ancestral culture and traditions and reclaim their past heritage in the long run.

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Re-Assessing The Classical West: Two Emperors And A Sign

Modern Christian Europe, is largely not confounded by the presence of a rich classical history, existing simultaneously with Christianity

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Paganism
Paganism is no longer a fringe cult in Europe. It has returned full force, to challenge the notions of its Judeo-Christian usurpers.

 

Ms Tania Bhattacharya
Ms Tania Bhattacharya.

BY TANIA BHATTACHARYA

Following the process of Christianization, Europe underwent a period generally regarded as its dark age. It was a time, when the collective knowledge of its ancients, be it in the Mediterranean, or further north, among the Celtic Druids, who had ushered in Europe’s earliest classical civilization of Stonehenge; was retreating in the face of advancing religious indoctrination. Unlike its polytheistic predecessor though, which had encouraged the spirit of inquiry, the new faith placed utmost importance on dogma, and its propaganda, in the process snuffing out much of what Paganism had bestowed upon Europe; referring to its Arts, Sciences, and the Athletics.

Modern Christian Europe, is largely not confounded by the presence of a rich classical history, existing simultaneously with Christianity, an evangelizing religious path, that had looked askance at the very classicism that today, Europeans have embraced as their own. So, while British schoolchildren sing defiantly in praise of their national icon, the first century Queen Boudicca, a Pagan Celtic heroine who had valiantly fought off the Roman legions on the island; they feel no dichotomy in extending the same goodwill to King Wenceslas, a Christian Slavic monarch, who had been assassinated due to a collusion between his Pagan mother Drahomira, and younger brother Prince Boleslas, both of whom had refused to abandon the polytheism of their forefathers. 

When the sun of the western classical era was on its descent, with Judeo-Christianity gradually wearing it down, some fundamental changes were made to the collective psyche of the hitherto polytheistic Europeans. Those negative changes have held strong right up to the present times. Perfectly good and decent historical personages from the pagan past have been reviled, and been turned into despicable figures, simply by affecting a string of historical falsifications. In this article, I shall address three such incidents.

EMPEROR RAMSES II

Among a long list of pharaohs, a few of them women, that ruled over Upper and Lower Egypt, till the region was conquered by the Romans, the name of Ramses the Second, is a stand-alone exemplar. He was born and raised in the Egypt of the nineteenth dynasty of kings, in the era of the thirteenth century before the first. In recent times, the classical heritage of that country has come under attack from Islamic hardliners including Mohammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. It seems as if only the secular, and authoritarian dictators of Egypt, have the good intention of maintaining intact, and renovating, the ancient wealth of their ancestors. 

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The mummy of Emperor Ramses II, aged 90, in 1213 BCE. Cairo Museum.

Even though structurally apart, there are many parallels which can be drawn between the Kemetic pagan religion of Egypt; and India’s Vedic Hinduism. Simple folk are more likely to grasp this glaring truth, as opposed to scholars, who are too busy etching out the chasm between cultures, and as a result, eventually missing the forest, for the trees. 

Sergey Glazenap, a prominent Soviet astrophysicist, made a note about Indians during the First World War. He observed, that when the Indian soldiers – then fighting on the side of Britain – were returning back home after the cessation of hostilities, they had to pass through Egypt. Glazenap writes, that the simpletons, once they had chanced upon the reliefs of the Egyptian deities, had immediately fallen on their knees, praying to them, saying, that those gods were the same as the ones they were accustomed to worshipping in India.

The above is a historical incident and a reminder, of the common thread which runs through all Polytheism. Separated through time and space that these religions are, they are nevertheless of equal respect to fellow worshippers within the Pagan sphere of life. It therefore would make sense, if the ordinary Hindu took an interest in the history and ancient ethos of global paganism, but unfortunately that has never been the case. It appears, that the average Hindu, is too cozy, wrapped up in the nuances of their own faith, to explore those that belong to fellow pagan communities.

Ramses the Second was the only known Egyptian ruler, who could extend the borders of ancient Egypt, maintain peace and stability; and mend relations with his neighbouring Hittites. The latter are the progenitors of Vedic Hinduism. Asia Minor’s Hittites have been West Asia’s most significant homegrown monarchy, that practised an indigenous religion.

Ramses the Second’s name was destined to remain untainted, that is, until it became intertwined with that of a famous religious philosopher, who was supposedly a contemporary. The person being referred to, is the Messiah of the Jews, Moses. For millennia, Jews and Christians have claimed, that Moses and his followers were expelled from Egypt by Ramses the Second, after the former had endured many calumnies and injustices at the hands of the latter. Following the expulsion, it is supposed, that Moses and his people, then wandered the deserts forty days and forty nights. 

Modern archaeology has unearthed some revealing facts about the aforementioned folklore. To begin with, there were next to no Jews that were residing in the Egypt of Pharaoh Ramses. It is now known, that the myth of the Jewish exodus, was given its final contours around the fourth century BCE, after taking inspiration from facets of Judaic legends, that had been in place thirty three hundred years ago. The motive for the myth-making, seems to be political, an effort that was made with an eye to uniting the Jewish people into a monolithic force. Moreover, the forty days and nights of wandering in the Sinai desert, have been disproven completely. Presumably, the same desert was used by many communities as land routes, in the intervening period of time, so for Judeo-Christian religious pundits to claim, that the exodus is a historical fact, based on certain ancient bone fragments found in the desert, is not only fallacious, but displays a degree of mischievousness. 

Ralph Lewis MD, author of Finding Purpose In A Godless World, himself an author, and a contributor to Psychology Today, has painstakingly disproven the circumstances involved in the story of Exodus. He is one among a growing number of rationalists, who have come forward armed with historical titbits, that rubbishes all the claims made by Judeo-Christian theologists concerning Exodus.

The sufferer in the end, however, has been none other, than the pristine image of Pharaoh Ramses the Second, that has been soiled for millennia together. What an incredible tale of character assassination! The poor ruler’s reputation deserves a thorough cleansing! Over the past few centuries, many Egyptians as well as other Arabs, have been complaining about what the Judeo-Christian West, had done to their beloved emperor of bygone times.

EMPEROR JULIAN…THE GREAT

The most important figure in the history of the Holy Roman Empire, is not Charlemagne, as mistakenly imagined, but the first ever Roman emperor, who had not only converted to Christianity, but who had made it his official state religion, and punished Paganism, by making its public worship, illegal, throughout the length and breadth of Europe, as also within Rome’s colonies in West Asia and North Africa. This king had been Constantine. History, always perceived in the west, through Jesus rimmed glasses, has bestowed upon him the epithet of ‘The Great’, in a gesture of gratitude. 

Emperor Julian
A bronze statue of Constantine, at York Minster, England.

The decision was made in haste it seems, for not only was Constantine a demonic personality, who went out of his way to remove the last vestiges of Roman Polytheism from its natural homeland; he found no contrariety in retaining the pagan honorific of Pontifex Maximus, or the Chief Priest of Rome, complete with a coronation ceremony that was held annually, by placing a helmet fashioned after the sun god Sol Invictus, upon the head of the emperor. 

It seems to be the case, that political expediency was the chief worry of Constantine. As John Canning mentions in ‘100 Great Lives’, Constantine could not afford alienating the multitudes of Romans including his own elite, Praetorian Guards, who were still polytheistic to the hilt. Those same political persuasions had made him concoct a story about seeing a flaming cross in the sky, inscribed with the words ‘By THIS, Conqueror!’ which he had then interpreted as a command from the almighty, instructing him to embrace the new faith. No one would be inclined to believe such poppycock in our present day and age, but seventeen hundred years ago, such stuff was taken seriously. It is altogether a different matter, that Constantine ‘the great’ had embarked soon, on a campaign of liquidation; having his own wife and son, murdered; and excommunicating the Arian sect of nascent Christianity. He truly converted to Christianity only on his deathbed, allowing himself the liberty to kill, imprison, torture, and expel at will, during his ambiguous phase. His new religion had promised him a clear track to heaven, for which all he had to do, was to ask to be forgiven of his lifetime of sins, and undergo a final baptism. The whole scenario, is enough to churn the stomach of the modern legal system.

A few generations into the line of Constantine’s household, a male child was born, who was named Julian. Tutored in the purple to become a general and a king, and an emerging man of letters, Julian took the throne as emperor of Rome, in the middle of the fourth century AD. This particular ruler of Rome, was a complete antithesis of his earlier, blood ancestor, Constantine ‘the great’, and perhaps remains the most significant Caesar to have been instated, after Augustus, and Augustus’ grand-uncle Julius, in the first century. 

Julian
A 4th century marble statue of Emperor Julian, housed at the Musee de Cluny.

Julian was a figure of depth and consistency of character. He married only once, and remained loyal to his wife till the time that she died during childbirth. Contemporary historians, and multiple sources at that, testify that Julian had been a virgin, and a complete celibate till his wedding, and that following his status as a widower, never took interest in women in a romantic sense, even though he was of marriageable age. This tall figure of Roman history, made a mark upon its annals, by emerging as a writer, a philosopher, a general, and a ruler, all at once. Displaying a tenderness toward the Jewish population that had sought refuge during his tenure, he was immortalized by them as ‘Julian, the Hellene’. It can be considered the misfortune of Rome and its people, that Emperor Julian was assassinated while fighting against the Persians, one of the mortal enemies of ancient Rome, akin to Carthage, once upon a time. 

If one contrasts the two figures of Roman history, namely, Constantine and Julian, it is not difficult to determine just who trumps the other over every aspect of creativity, humanism, and progress. Yet, it is remarkable, that Julian has gone down in history, not simply as ‘Emperor Julian’, but as ‘Julian the Apostate’. His crime? Julian was an avowed polytheist. Despite having been reared as a Christian, he had renounced the religion in his early youth, and sought to return Rome, to its ancestral, native, system of beliefs. He might very well have a