If the gods are real, they are real now. They are as real as they have ever been. If the gods are real now, they cannot be dependent on our knowledge of their past exploits. The gods do not cling anxiously to ancient traditions and customs. They do not claim Christmas or the Easter eggs as their own, neither do they denounce them as being infected by the great enemy, by which I mean the Christians naturally . The gods are doing fine.
It is us humans that cling to the past. We fear that when we lose what’s left of the ancient polytheist traditions, we will be utterly lost. And because conserving this past is crucial, determining what is and is not part of our heritage becomes of increasing importance. We think we have to extract what is truly pagan from its murky Christian contexts and we have to sanitize our Pagan history as to eliminate any Christian element. Why are we so fearful? Why do we put our history into a glass cabinet? If the gods are real, paganism can never die. As Dver writes here on pagan survivals:
It doesn’t matter if some particular pagan-seeming custom can be absolutely traced back to origins in the polytheistic past. Regardless, it is a survival (or re-manifestation, if you will) of the polytheistic mindset, the animistic worldview. In fact, I would posit that it’s better if these customs re-emerged in new forms post-Christianity. Then they are simply newer variations on the same themes, proving the primacy of those themes in the human experience (i.e., our natural state is paganism). They are a genuine and fresh response to the continuous perception of spirits and the immanent divine in the natural world, one that cannot be eliminated by strong discouragement by the Church or materialistic society, even when the latter two things manage to squash specific activities. They just find a new expression again, rising from the same basic spiritual understanding that has existed for all of human history.
Paganism will not die. Many have attempted to kill it though the burning of books, by destroying temples. Our stories were rewritten so that no-one could ever be sure what the Pagans truly believed and what was altered, fabricated or simply erased. This is all very sad, cultural vandalism always is, but it does not matter. Paganism cannot be killed. The gods cannot be killed. Our stories will tell themselves again and again. Even if all presently living Pagans will die today, the stories will resurface, through Christian voices if it needs be. Our natural state is pagan. We are pagan to our very bones. Even if all historical references to a pagan past would be destroyed, we can reconnect once more. We can reconnect to the gods, the eternal mythic stories, and what is right in front of us.
In this East of my country small towns compete in building the biggest Easter bonfire. Is this a Christian tradition? It cannot be traced back to a pre-Christian tradition, no. But it is as pagan as it possibly can be. Yes, you can decide to celebrate the spring equinox instead, but why not do both? As Pagans we should embrace pagan resurgence even, or especially, when it happens at Easter. Even when its celebrants are Christians who unknowingly slip into some sort of polytheism or animism by default.
Sam Webster writes that “You can’t be a Christian and do Pagan things”. Well, this entire weekend I will see Christians do pagan things. And their actions aren’t any less pagan for being spelled with a small ‘p’. Webster would have me tell them that they should stick to their own religion, but how would that help us? How would discouraging people to accept their inner pagan, help the Pagan cause?
I thought I needed to capitalize the word ‘Pagan’ to support our larger religious and cultural movement. I thought we deserved the capital letter as much as our Christian neighbours and that it would reinforce solidarity among different kinds of Pagans. I still belief this is the case, but at the moment I feel something may be lost by this usage of the big ‘P’. We may lose our connection with the natural paganism that can crop up everywhere. This is also one of the reasons I prefer to identify as Pagan rather than polytheist; at least the word is still the same.
Yesterday some evangelist on Patheos thought it was necessary to claim back Easter through arguing that Easter is “NOT based on a pagan holiday”. I urge you not to try to win this argument over the origins of this festival. The Christians can have the origins of Easter. I don’t care. I will celebrate the spirit of paganism. I will dance, eat good food and yes, I may even paint eggs.
I am a Pagan.
But I am pagan first.