Catholicsm and paganism have a lot in common. Some evidence from Portugal.
For hundreds of years Catholics converted tribal people from all over the globe to Christianity. This conversion was often combined with violence and conquest in a zealous quest to drive out the “false gods” of paganism.
But Catholicism itself is more like a pagan religion than it wishes to admit. During Eucharist, believers eat the actual body of Christ — not symbolic, but the real flesh as dictated by Papal dogma. This is pure magic and no different to the tribal rituals they once abolished. In Lisbon I got caught up in a large procession, Corpo de Deus, where this miracle was celebrated.
Another fine example of catholic paganism in Faro is the Capela dos Ossos, the chapel of the bones. An alter built from the bones of monks as a reminder of the temporal nature of our existence.
If anything all this makes Catholic religion a lot more interesting than the austerity in Protestant churches. The ability of Catholicism to incorporate ancient local customs has been its secret to success over the world.
Last Sunday Australia’s first saint was canonised by Pope Benedictus in Rome. Mary MacKillop, now called Saint Mary of the Cross was undoubtedly a very good person who deserves to honoured, that is not what this post is about.
On one of the many news segments covering this event, an Australian devotee was asked to give an impression of the ceremony and called it “magical”. Looking at the ceremony, which was the culmination of decades of lobbying and religious bureaucracy, there was indeed a lot of magic going on.
The process of becoming a saint is a protracted and political process whereby the ‘fan club’ of a certain religious person puts forward the case for canonisation. The candidate gradually moves from the status of Servant of God, to Venerable through to Blessed and when all conditions have been met. a Saint.
One of the most remarkable hurdles to be taken is the declaration of Non Cultus. The declaration of Non Cultus entails that the candidate has not inspired heretical worship in the form of a cult. This is a nice example of a Catholic contradiction. Sainthood is the pinnacle of worship in the form of a cult. In some instances this even includes a exhumation of the body to collect relics, i.e. body parts of the candidate for sainthood. In the case of MacKillop her grave was left in peace.
Interesting aspect of her canonisation was the handing over of a red-gum wooden cross with strands of Mary’s hair, which is the only relic of the brand new saint. Relics are the most interesting aspect of Catholicism as they form a direct link between the current times and the heathen religions of our ancestors.
The canonisation of Mary certainly a magical event, not in the sense that is was beautiful or inspiring, but as wonderfully occult ceremonial magic. Relics, canonisations and many other esoteric aspects of the Catholic church are fascinating. These aspects of Catholicism are the reason that you never see Protestant preachers saving the day in horror movies—you can’t kill a demon with words, only Catholic religion has held on to the pagan vestiges required to manipulate the spiritual world. The Catholic church basically ignores warnings in the Bible against magic and practices beautiful occult rituals. This is great because they thus preserve our primordial heritage into the 21th century.
Yesterday I took part in a pagan ritual. No, I did not dance naked around a camp fire or undertake an invocation of ancient gods. The heathen ritual I took part in was a contemporary university graduation to receive my MBA degree.
The pomp and circumstance of the academic dress and procession seem to be innocent reminders of ancient traditions to add gravitas to the moment of graduation. The ritualistic aspects of the ceremony and the continuous doffing of the at the chancellor are, however, all part of an elaborate pagan ceremony.
One particular moment, the conferring of the degree, can only be described as magical. Not magic in the sense that the ceremony has an ethereal atmosphere, but magic in the literal sense of the word. The conferring of the degree is in its very essence a mystical moment.
All graduands were standing and the Chancellor conferred the degree upon us. Even though she did not use any incantations nor did she invoke any occult forces, the conferring of the degrees is a moment of magic. It is only from that point forward that I could by right call myself a Master in Business Administration. Even those who decided not to attend the ceremony did not escape the magic powers of the Chancellor, as also they had their degrees conferred upon them by the power invested in her.
It seems rather strange that a rational organisation such as a university uses archaic and irrational practices to finalise several years of intense rational work. Although the purpose of academic education is to hone rational thinking skills, the process is concluded in an irrational moment.
Although it might not be sensed by contemporary graduands as being just that, there is no significant difference between the conferring of the degree and the activities of a witch doctor or priest bestowing a blessing.
Given the fact that the vast majority of graduands chose to attend the ceremony, rather than being provided with their degree through the mail, shows that no matter how rational we think we are, we all require a magical and non-rational moments.
I have been writing some copy on Satanism for the Dutch Wikipedia in the last few weeks, which has been proven an interesting experience. I established articles on the work of Anton Czandor LaVey (Church of Satan) and Michael Aquino (Temple of Set).
I have come to respect the satanic philosophy developed by Michael Aquino. Satanism attracts a lot of negative attention as soon as the word is mentioned, because of its opposition to Christianity. It is, however, the Christians themselves that have created Satanism. The whole concept of Satan is nothing more than a counter-movement to Christianity. The knee-jerk reactions by Christians when the subject gets mentioned shows that it has the desired effect! LaVey’s Black Mass and Satanic Bible are meant to provoke responses from the establish religions.
Satanism and Christianity
The Satanic philosophy is anti-Christian in that it is a mirror image of Christianity, but because of relationship it is also inherently Christian as it defines itself in opposition. Satanism does not proclaim that one should go around and whack everybody on the head and other forms of unruly behaviour. Satanism a a philosophy embraces personal freedom and places the source of morality within ourselves, while Christianity seeks to find truth in a transcendent reality.
Some religious fellow authors on Wikipedia started to ‘enhance’ the articles I established with nonsense about human sacrifice and other myths about these contemporary churches. Satanism as a religion can only exist in the presence of Christianity. The Church of Satan, Temple of Set and similar institutions could not have existed without the presence of Christianity. Just like religious people create their gods in their own image, they also create the opposite forces.
The occult—literally the hidden—plays a very minor role in contemporary society. This is, however, only a recent phenomenon as esotericism has played an important role in Western culture until the early twentieth century.
Several well known artists such as Mondriaan, Duchamp and Kandinsky were heavily influenced by esoteric traditions. Nowadays, followers of occultism are placed in the same category as those who believe that Elvis is still alive.
The social status of occultism has been demoted. The most important cause of this, according to Gibbons (2003), is the meeting between the Beatles and Maharashi Mahesh Yogi in 1967 and the subsequent mass-popularisation and vulgarisation of esoteric knowledge, commonly known as New Age.1
I concur with Gibbons that the proliferation of New Age as a social movement and the vulgarisation of esoteric knowledge is one of the reasons that esotericism is now not acknowledged as one of the major sources of Western culture. The advent of science has, of course, a role to play as well. History is always a rewriting of past events and in most current histories, the influence of the occult on Western culture is simply ignored. It is no secret that Newton, the genius of modern science, was preoccupied with alchemy. History writing does, however, make the assumption that his alchemy and his physics are two separate entities. In many histories esotericism is viewed as an aberration in cultural history.
During a recent visit to Poland I came across some nice examples of esoteric symbolism. This photo is taken at Malbork castle, a former stronghold of the Teutonic knights. This is a detail of a headstone showing some Masonic symbols. The Teutonic knights were a crusading order of knights under Roman Catholic religious vows. Their Christianity obviously did not prevent them from using occult symbolism, a combination which nowadays would be met with great suspicion.
The serious study of esotericism unveils forces within the history of Western culture that contemporary cultural studies ignore. Whether you are a believer or not, the influence of the occult on Western culture cannot be ignored.
Tom Gibbons, The occult and early modernism, Quadrant (November 2003), p. 82-84. ↩