Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth
In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.
If I could zap one word from the pagan vocabulary, it would be “archetype.”
Don't ask me what it means. When I press people for a definition, they're mostly hard-put to provide one. So far as I can tell, archetypes seem to be something like Platonic Ideas.
If so, what does it mean to say that the gods are archetypes?
Me, I'm an Old Style Pagan. I worship (to name only some) the Sun, the Moon, the Storm, Earth, Sea, the Winds. Whatever it is that They may be (when asked “What is a god?” the poet Simonides replied, “I find that the more I think about the question, the more opaque it becomes”), it doesn't seem to me to be in any way meaningful to say that they're archetypes.
Whatever that may be.
Craft historian Michael Howard has contended that the reductionist tendency to regard the gods as archetypes—essentially, as parts of ourselves—has actually stood in the way of entering into any sort of real relationship with Them.
If some Da'ish thug put a gun to your temple and hissed in your ear, Convert or die: what would you do?
Pagans have faced this choice ever since non-pagan religions gained political power. In our own day, alas, some pagans still face this hideous choice.
Which is better, to be true and die, or to hide and live?
The martyrs get all the hero-tales, it's true.
And indeed, I praise the sacrifice of those who kept (and keep) faith at the cost of their lives.
But ever, they say, the Craft must survive.
So I also praise the sacrifice of those who wrap themselves in the cloak of the conqueror, but keep the Old Ways in secret.
In Baltic lore, each of the Old Gods has his or her own sign.
For the Sun, it's the Sun Wheel. For the Moon, the Crescent.
Fire is the Fire Cross, the swastika, Thunder, the Thunder Cross, or compound swastika.
The Winds, since there are four of them, have the Cross, Heaven the Mountain. (How else would you draw a picture of the sky?)
But what about Earth?
My teacher, Tony Kelly, of the Pagan Movement in Britain and Ireland, used to say, “If we know anything at all about Earth, we know that she's Mother.”
At the time, as a good, doctrinaire second wave feminist, I found this statement reductionist and objectionable.
Since then, I've changed my mind.
It's something of a problem in contemporary pagan iconography.
Do gods have halos?
Halo: a disk of light surrounding the head, in art the conventional indicator of holiness. (In Greek, halo means “threshing floor”; threshing floors were clean, shining disks of ground.)
To Western eyes, halos may have something of a Christian look to them. For some, that's a problem.
But look East and you'll see that buddhas wear halos too, and so do Hindu gods.
In fact, there was a time when use of the halo was forbidden to Christian artists. Sorry, Crispus, halos are for pagans.