Wednesday, 22 July 2009

"Stolen" festivals?

I am frequently disappointed by the number of Pagan blogs and websites still banging on about Christians stealing our festivals. In fact, many of the modern Pagan festivals were "retro-engineered" from Christian ones. But in fairness, it must be pointed out that the reason we don't have continuity with ancient paganisms is because they were stamped out by Christianity (though the transition was not always violent, I know).

Although we honour the same deities as the ancient paganisms, there is a lack of continuity between us and them. We do not make sacrifices to propitiate them; and we are also the heirs of Enlightenment science and individualism, and the Romantic movement, and all the other historical events of the intervening centuries, especially the current environmental crisis. We must create a religion for our own contemporary needs, not a quasi-historical re-enactment of an imaginary past.

Admittedly, when people talk about a festival "stolen" from us by the Christians, they are referring back to the (now debunked) scholarship of the fifties and sixties which assumed that Christian festivals were overlaid over ancient pagan ones (which, in the case of Christmas and Hallowe'en, is actually true). So modern scholars need to get their work out there where it will be read by the general public. Ronald Hutton has done an excellent job of this with his books, of course, but he is the exception to the general rule.

The eight festivals celebrated by contemporary Pagans have their roots in ancient practice, but all eight were not celebrated by any one group, and the modern meanings are different. There are some excellent articles on the Association of Polytheist Traditions website debunking some of the claims about festivals.
Of course, many contemporary Pagans have read Ronald Hutton's Stations of the Sun. If you haven't, you should, along with his latest one, The Druids, and The Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern Pagan witchcraft.

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