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Archive for the tag “paganism”

The pagan origins of the Xmas egg

While the pagan origin of Easter eggs is relatively well known, the parallel story of the pagan origins of Christmas eggs has languished in obscurity, and it is time to make the story better known.

Many Christians eat eggs on the 25th December, and many are also in the habit of consuming the fowls that laid the eggs on that day too. It is a well-known axiom that whenever there is a Christian celebration or festival, there must be an older pagan one that was the true origin of the Christian one, and so it is in this case.

The ostensible reason for the celebration is the alleged birth of a male child to a virgin, but this story was reworked by the Patriarchy for its own ends. If we deconstruct the Patriarchal Christian story, it is easy enough to arrive at the pagan original.

Xmas Egg

What really happened was that Uranus and Gaia copulated, and Gaia laid an egg on 15 November. This egg hatched six weeks later on 25th December, and the goddess Aphrodite emerged from the shell. It was the Patriarchy that changed this female fledgling into a male child. Devotees of Aphrodite therefore abstained from eating eggs from 15 November until 25 December, on order to identify with the goddess in her ovoid phase, and it was believed to be bad luck if anyone ate an egg in that time, as it would hinder the hatching of the goddess.

One can see how the Judeo-Christian Patriarchy has twisted the story in the book of Genesis, where it is claimed that the male Patriarchal Yahweh created Uranus and Gaia, thus distorting the story. The original read “In the beginning Uranus and Gaia…” but the Patriarchal scribes inserted “God made” into the text.

Thus the pagan origin of Christmas eggs has been revealed.



Christianity, paganism and witchcraft

I’ve been asked to read a paper on the Christian understandings of paganism and witchcraft at the conference of the Association for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (ASRSA) in May.

The following book, announced by John Morehead, will be released too late to consult for my paper, but I’d welcome recommendations of other recent books that might throw more light on the subject. Meanwhile, I might mention the forthcoming book as a p[ossibly useful one on the topic.

Morehead’s Musings:

I am pleased to be able to begin promotion for the forthcoming book, Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, by Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega. This volume was approximately three years in the making from conception to finished product, and it is now in the final stages as Lion Publishing prepares for its marketing and publishing. I was privileged to serve as editor and project coordinator for this book, which represents a major step forward in dialogue and understanding between Paganism and Christianity

Pagans and Neopagans

In a comment on another post Yvonne Aburrow writes:

Small grumble… why do Christians (even lovely ones such as your good self) always insist on the “Neo-” prefix? Is it to emphasise that you don’t believe we have continuity with pagans of the past? Sure, we don’t have the equivalent of apostolic succession (we call it initiatory lineage), but there is a continuity of ideas via the Western Mystery Tradition, and many another strand of thought and feeling. Also, the pagans of the classical world didn’t call themselves Pagans, so I don’t give them a capital P – but I do give it to modern Pagans because they identify as such.

Of course, given that you belong to a tradition with unbroken apostolic succession, maybe you should call all other forms of Christianity Neo-Christian…

This post is an attempt to respond to that.

I should say right at the start that in addition to being a Christian I am a curmudgeonly language pedant. I tend to be fussy about language and usage, and distinctions between the meanings of words that some might think hair splitting.

And for me, “pagan” is a general term, whereas “neopagan” is a more specific one.

“Pagan” started off as Christian slang for non-Christians. As the historian Robin Lane Fox puts it in his book Pagans and Christians:

In antiquity, pagans already owed a debt to Christians. Christians first gave them their name, pagani… In everyday use, it meant either a civilian or a rustic. Since the sixteenth century the origin of the early Christians’ usage has been disputed, but of the two meanings, the former is the likelier. Pagani were civilians who had not enlisted through baptism as soldiers of Christ against the powers of Satan. By its word for non-believers, Christian slang bore witness to the heavenly battle which coloured Christians’ view of life.

“Pagan” continued to be used as Christian slang for non-Christians right up to the middle of the 20th century. Paganism was not a religion. It was the state of not being a Christian. In Europe, perceptions of religion began to change with the growth of modernity. I don’t want to go into that in too much detail here, but should just point out that modernity gave rise to the modern conception of “religion” and “religions”, and the idea that Christianity was one instance of something that belonged to a wider category, one religion among many. Such a notion would probably never have occurred to anyone before the 17th century. What it led to was a notion among some people that the term “pagans” applied to adherents of non-monotheistic religions, so that anyone who was not a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim was a pagan. But still, no one was a self-described pagan.

In the 19th century, though, some people did begin to describe themselves as pagans. They accepted the Christian understanding, with an extension. Not only were they not Christian, they were not religious. Those who accepted “pagan” as a self-description were secular humanists.

An example of this usage can be seen in a book by Rosalind Murray, The Good Pagan’s failure. It was a book of Christian apologetics written by one who had been a Good Pagan, but had become a Christian. I used to have a copy, but can’t find it. The following excerpt from a review, however, should make it clear what the book is about, and how the word “pagan” is used in it.

The Good Pagan’s Failure. By Rosalind Murray. (Longmans, Green, 7s. 6d. net.)

Miss ROSALIND MURRAY has attempted to interpret liberal humanism to the Christian, and Christianity to the humanist, to examine the misunderstandings which inevitably arise between the supernatural outlook of the “totalitarian” Christian, and the cultivated, “moderate”, humanitarian worldliness of the Good Pagan. Miss Murray is singularly equipped to make this attempt, having known both worlds, and she has achieved a work of immediate value.

At its best (and Miss Murray knew it at its best) that humanism possessed qualities of culture, moral refinement, honour, and humane sensibility which were remarkable; today its essential weaknesses have worked themselves out, and the Good Pagan stands back in hurt surprise at the sight of a world in ruins. His intentions were so good, his heart so kind; what has gone wrong? Miss Murray examines his failure with intelligence and sympathetic insight, and shows how by his exclusive preoccupation with this world, his confidence that with bread (and kindness) alone man could be happy, the Good Pagan was forced to shut his eyes to the world’s imperfections, to the facts of suffering, poverty and sin. But “by excluding Heaven we have not abolished Hell, by denying redemption we have not been redeemed, the sinner is still there, in the world and in ourselves”.

Rosalind Murray, as the reviewer points out, was a member of both worlds. Her father, Gilbert Murray, was a well-known advocate of secular humanism. And Rosalind Murray’s use of the term “pagan” was fairly widespread and well understood for the first two-thirds of the 20th century.

When I was teaching in the theology faculty of the University of South Africa (Unisa) in the 1990s, the faculty issued formal tutorial letters to students to say that they should not use words like “non-Christian” and “pagan”. Their intentions were good. The people who compiled the letters thought that these terms were insulting, and that it was not good to be rude to people. The problem was that they were a little naive, and did not see how their own prohibition was actually a manifestation of an attitude of superiority. If it is bad to call someone a pagan or a non-Christian, that implies that one thinks that Christians are superior to non-Christians, the therefore it is rude to imply that a person is so inferior as not to be a Christian. I doubt that many pagans would be fooled by this disingenuousness. It actually patronising condescension at its worst.

At the same time, and especially since the mid-1960s, many people were happy to call themselves pagans, not because they were irreligious, but because they were religious. Many of them were consciously trying to revive the ancient pre-Christian religions of Europe. But even in this sense, “paganism” did not refer to a single religion, but to a group of religions, some of which had their own names. Asatru, for example, as the revival of ancient Norse religions, Hellenism was the revival of the pre-Christian religion of the Olympian gods. There were new composite religions like Wicca.

Yvonne objects to the term on the grounds that it implies a lack of continuity, and in a sense it does: Asatru is not a continuation of ancient Norse religion. Hellenism is not a continuation of ancient Greek religion. They are revivals. The term “paganism” also covers what some have called “paleopaganism”, which includes not only the ancient religions of Greece and Rome, but also religions that are still practised at the present day, including African and American traditional religions. And many modern pagans themselves have come up with, and are happy to use, terms like “neopaganism” and “paleopaganism” and indeed have helped to define them. While I don’t agree with everything in that article, I think it does help to clarify the definitions of the terms.

Perhaps, as a postscript, I should say a little more about the question of “superiority”, as manifested in both the Unisa tutorial letters and in the article referred to in the previous paragraph. After all, I remain a Christian — doesn’t that mean that I regard myself as superior to pagans, whether neo-, meso- or paleo-?

And the answer for me, at least, is no.

Someone once likened Christian evangelism to “one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread”.

It’s a good analogy. A beggar who finds bread is not necessarily better than one who has not. He may be “better off“, but he is not “better”. That is the point of the discussion of the Good Pagan’s failure. Why the epithet “good”? The point is that the failure is not necessarily a failure of ethics or morality. Many pagans live better and more moral lives than many Christians, and some indeed have higher ethical and moral standards than some Christians. The moment that Christians assume that they are morally superior to others simply because they are Christians, they’ve lost the plot. And, as Isaac Bonewits points out in his article cited above, that has happened quite often, There is nothing in the Christian faith to justify such attitudes of moral superiority. And when we do adopt those attitudes, we simply show how much we are still sinners.

Neopagan discussions of Christianity

A few months ago a group of Christian bloggers had a synchroblog on Christian-Neopagan relations, and now a similar thing seems to be happening spontaneously among Neopagans. MetaPagan:

It must be something in the aether…Discussions of Christianity are breaking out on Pagan blogs everywhere.

It’s odd, but whenever I post anything related to the subject of Christianity at my own blog, the number of hits and comments–from Pagans–goes way up. Maybe I’m not the only person to have noticed this, because over the last few days, numerous members of the Pagan/Heathen blogosphere have posted entries on the topic of Christo-Paganism and related topics. Some bloggers are concerned, some are puzzled, and some are embracing at least some Christian concepts, if not Christianity, per se.

Generally speaking, a Blog Carnival or a Synchro-blog event, like the Brighid in Cyberspace Poetry Reading described below, is planned in advance. This one, however, seems to be just happening.

Visit Metapagan to see the links to some of the posts.

Christianity, paganism and literature (synchroblog)

Christianity and neopaganism – synchroblog

When I have read or participated in electronic discussions on religion in general, and the relation between Christians and neopagans in particular, I have commonly found an expectation of hostility. Christians are expected to be hostile towards neopagans, and often are. Neopagans are expected to be hostile towards Christians, and often are.

Much of the hostility I have seen in electronic discussions arises from ignorance. Christians and neopagans do not so much attack each other as they attack caricatures of each other. And when they really get into the swing of the attack, they sometimes start behaving like the caricatures too. I believe the writings of the Inklings can go a long way towards removing the caricatures.

Some Christians have never heard of neopagans, and wonder what they are, and there is even disagreement about that, so here is a brief description. The word “pagan”, as used by Christians, originally meant someone who wasn’t a Christian. It was probably derived from Roman military slang, where it meant a civilian as opposed to a soldier, and for Christians it meant someone who had not enlisted, by baptism, in the battle against the evil “Prince of this World”.

As a result of this origin, in the early days of Christianity, pagans were not aware of being “pagan”, though as time went on some doubtless became aware that Christians called them that. They had many different gods and cults and philosophies, depending on where they lived. But whatever else they worshipped or didn’t worship, citizens of the Roman Empire had a universal obligation to participate in the Emperor cult. Christians were awkward in refusing to do so, and this sometimes got them into trouble with the authorities, and there were sporadic persecutions of Christians.

In many of the places where Christianity spread people stopped worshipping their old gods altogether, and became Christians; sometimes this happened because they wanted to do so, sometimes their king or other local ruler became a Christian and then forced all his subjects to do the same. For whatever reason, though, the worship of the old gods ceased.

In the 19th and 20th centuries a movement of secularisation spread through Europe and other parts of the world. Religion ceased to hold a central place in people’s thinking, and in some places, the so-called Second World, it was actively suppressed. The Western world had become post-Christian. People who were nonreligious, for whom God meant nothing, often called themselves, and were called by Christians, “pagans”. But some people were dissatisfied with a secular worldview, and many were spiritual searchers. Some of these searched in the pre-Christian religions of their countries, and began worshipping gods that had long been neglected. And they came to be called “neopagans”, new pagans, to distinguish them from those who had worshipped those gods before the coming of Christianity (who were sometimes called “paleopagans”). These revived pagan religions were not the same as the originals, and had a totally different social base. Many neopagans were eclectic, choosing gods who had never been worshipped together, and some worshippped gods of their own devising. It is impossible to describe all the different varieties of neopaganism here. Some have particular names: Asatru, the worship of the old Norse gods; Hellenism, the worship of the old Olympian gods of ancient Greece; Wicca, the worship of a goddess, and sometimes a god who is a consort.

As a result of some fanciful and now-discredited ideas propagated by Margaret Murray, some neopagans, and Wiccans in particular, came to believe that the Great European Witchhunt in Early Modern Europe was actually a persecuton of a pagan religion (labelled The Burning Times), and that the “witches” then persecuted were precursors of modern Wiccans. This fuelled the hostility that some neopagans felt towards Christians, while some Christians accused neopagans of being satanists and devil worshippers, and in some cases neopagans experienced real persecution in the present, and did not need imaginary persecutions of the past to make them aware of hostility.

One thing that strikes me about the fiction of the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien et al) is that they are often enjoyed by Christians and neopagans alike. These three authors, and perhaps others who write in similar genres, may provide a way for Christians and pagans to communicate with each other without such hostility.

Lewis, Tolkien and Williams were Christians, and I am a Christian, so what I say here, I say from a Christian point of view, and I am mainly addressing my fellow Christians. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want neopagans or others to read this. Anyone who is interested in the topic is welcome to do so. It’s just that I don’t advocate a neopagan viewpoint here, and nor do I pretend to a neutral “objectivity”. So if you are a neopagan, you’ll probably disagree with a lot of what I say. A lot of Christians might disagree with it too.

Tolkien’s Lord of the rings is probably the best-known and most widely read of the Inklings’ works. In the rec.arts.books.tolkien newsgroup, there are periodic discussions on whether it is a Christian book or not. Christians often claim that it is a Christian book, whereas non-Christians often claim that is is a “pagan” book. The elements of pagan mythology are plain to see, whereas there are none of the externally-recognisable elements of Christian “religion”. The characters don’t read the Bible, they don’t go to church, and Christ is never mentioned. There isn’t even a recognisable Christ-figure, like Aslan in the Narnian books of C.S. Lewis, to provide a reference point.

It is also fairly well known, at least among Inklings fans, that there was some disagreement on this point between Tolkien and Lewis. Tolkien disliked allegory, and said that he regarded the Christianity in Lewis’s books as too explicit. Some neopagans also find the Christianity in Lewis’s books too explicit, and avoid them for that reason. Others enjoy them, and either ignore the Christian references, or regard them as another “path” that they themselves do not need to take, though they acknowledge that it may have been legitimate for Lewis and others.

Lewis’s fiction works might be a good starting point, however, precisely because they are most explicitly Christian. Even though this is so, one could also say much the same of them as many have said of The lord of the rings – there are no church services or Christian ministers, or any other religious activities. There is no religion in them. But there is quite a lot of pagan material in them.

Consider, for example, C.S. Lewis’s The lion, the witch and the wardrobe. A child from the normal everyday world hides in a wardrobe during a game, and finds herself transported by magic into another world, where she has tea with a faun, a figure from ancient Roman pagan mythology. A faun is half human, half goat, and the encounter is an introduction to a world of intelligent talking animals – beavers with sewing machines and the like. Lewis has no hesitation in blending Christian and pagan mythology in his Narnian books. There is even salvation. Salvation is at the centre of the plot of the book, but one would have to look hard to find it attributed to any religion at all, Christian or pagan.

Of course Lewis was known as a Christian, and his conception of salvation is a Christian one, but in this particular book he does not deal with what seems to be the central question for many Western Christian “theologians of religion” – the question whether there is salvation in “other” religions.

The next book in the Narnian series, Prince Caspian, is even more populated with pagan deities – Bacchus and Silenus, nymphs and Maenads, and even a river god. Lewis does not identify these with the forces of evil – they are not “satanic”, as many Christians seem to think pagan deities ought to be (and many neopagans think that Christians think neopagans’ deities are). They are rather part of the army of liberation, and are themselves liberated from the powers of evil in the course of the story.

One could give more examples from the other books in the series, but the picture one gets from all of these is far removed from some of the common Western perceptions of the Christian attitude towards paganism and pagan deities, whether seen from the point of view of Christians or of neopagans. That is, the perception that Christianty and neopaganism are, and perhaps ought to be, hostile to each other.

This hostility was not always around

Back in the early 1970s a group of us were trying to set up a Christian commune in Windhoek, Namibia. We made contact with other groups with similar interests, largely through an exchange of underground magazines in something called The Cosmic Circuit (a kind of hard-copy Webring). One magazine dealing with communes was produced by a neopagan group in Wales, and was edited by Tony Kelly of the Selene Community there. We sent them our Christian magazine Ikon in exchange for their publication Communes. They also sent us a few copies of their neopagan magazine The Waxing Moon. There was no hostility that I could discern. The people who published The Waxing Moon appeared to want to revive the pre-Christian nature religions of north-western Europe. It seemed to be part of a wider “back-to-nature” movement, a reaction against the urban-industrial society of the 20th century with its wars and political systems.

Then we lost contact. Our community in Windhoek was broken up by deportation and banning, and we went our separate ways and got involved in other things. In the 1990s I once again came into contact with neopagans, mainly through electronic computer links, such as bulletin board conferences and reading Web pages put up by neopagans. The bulletin board conferences were more informative, because they were more interactive. But there seemed to be differences from my experience of 20 years earlier. There was a hostility and suspicion that I had not noticed before. It also seemed that where there was this hostility, there was also a lack of communication. Christians and neopagans did not so much attack each other as attack caricatures of each other. The electronic media made it possible for people who might otherwise never meet to talk to each other, but when they did, they failed to communicate and just talked past each other. As someone once put it, these new electronic communications media made it easy to communicate with people of other countries and cultures, but very often it is communication without community.

One difference, which may be significant, is that the neopagans we were in touch with in the 1970s were in Britain. Most of those I encountered in the 1990s through BBSs were American. And some Americans, at least, seem to get a lot more aggressive and bitter about things, and were more inclined to divide the world into “good guys” and “bad guys”.

But what I think may be even more significant is the time. I got the impression (which could be mistaken) that the neopagans of the 1960s and 1970s were engaged in a search for spiritual values in reaction against secular modernity. They failed to find those values in Christianity, because many Western Christians had sold out to secular modernity. The most influential Christian books at the time were all about how the Christian church must come to terms with modernity and secular values: The secular meaning of the gospel (van Buren), The secular city (Cox) and Honest to God (Robinson) are a few of the better-known ones. Anyone looking for spiritual values at such a time would have been hard-put to find them in the Christian churches of the West. While Christian theologians were saying how difficult it was for “modern man” to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the youth were marching in the streets in their thousands with posters proclaiming that “Che Guevara lives” and “Chairman Mao will live for 10000 years”. The theologians who were trying to address the “with it” generation were quite obviously “without it”.

In the 1990s, however, when I began communicating with neopagans and others electronically, I got a different impression (which could also be mistaken) – that many people who had turned to neopaganism in the 1990s had reacted not against secular values, but against religious ones, and those religious values were those of Christianity, or, perhaps more accurately, those which American sociologists have called “Judeo-Christian” when trying to describe the middle ground of US culture. The difference between American neopagans of the 1990s and British ones of the 1970s was that the former were rebelling against a “Judeo-Christian” upbringing, whereas the latter were rebelling against secular materialism, and could therefore more easily find common ground with Christians who were rebelling against the same things. Those who are rebelling against a “Judeo-Christian” upbringing might on that account be more inclined to be hostile towards Christianity.

What happened to make the change?

I suspect that one cause is that in the 1970s many Western Christians rebelled against the “secular sixties”, and changed. This rebellion took several different forms. One form was radical Christian “Jesus freaks”. Another was the spread of the charismatic renewal, with its rediscovery of a sense of miracle and mystery. It is possible that in the 1970s this attracted many who in the 1960s might have been attracted by neopaganism.

By the end of the decade, however, a reaction had set in. The charismatic renewal had become institutionalised and domesticated in a kind of Protestant neo-scholasticism. A thousand loose-cannon prophets receiving direct revelations from the Holy Spirit (so they said) found that these revelations seemed to concern all the other groups and teachings but theirs, and began calling on the faithful to “Come out of Babylon” and join their particular version of the New Jerusalem. The denunciations became stronger, and the tolerance of deviation less, and euphoria of the 1970s led to the hangover of the 1980s, which some called “charismatic burn-out”. The miracle and the mystery had been swallowed up in a sterile intellectual rigidity. (I’ve been toying with the idea of a research project into the history of the charismatic renewal in South Africa to test some of these hypotheses).

Having observed this process among Western Christians, I am a little disturbed by signs of something similar beginning to happen among Orthodox Christians in the West, only three decades behind the Protestants and Roman Catholics. There seems to be an idea going around that Orthodox Christianity must be inculturated in the West by having clean-shaven clergy in business suits, with pews and microphones and musical instruments in the churches. Orthodoxy could be beginning its own sell-out to secular Western culture. Not entirely, though. Groups such as the Youth of the Apocalypse, with their slogan of “Death to the World”, affirming the countercultural character of Orthodoxy, might provide a counter weight.

So much for the background (as I see it) to the hostility between many Christians and many neopagans. What does the fantasy literature of people like Lewis, Tolkien and Williams have to do with it?

In the 1960s Lewis and Williams’s fiction was reprinted in paperback, and so became more accessible. Tolkien’s Lord of the rings was reprinted in 1966, and enjoyed a new popularity. Until then, Lewis had been widely known as the author of popular works of Christian apologetics. In a smaller, more specialised circle, he was known as the author of some works of literary criticism. Williams continued to be known mainly by a fairly small circle of enthusiasts. All three writers based their work, mainly or in part, on premodern myths and legends.

At the same time as professional theologians were writing works extolling the virtues of modernity, of the modern world-view or “paradigm”, and calling for Christianity to be “demythologised”, these authors were in effect reaffiming the value of myth. At the same time as the publication of Robinson’s Honest to God, which caused such a stir in the West, J.V. Taylor published The primal vision. Both Taylor’s and Robinson’s books were discussed at conferences of the Anglican Students Federation of South Africa, and their somewhat incompatible messages seemed to cancel one another out. Demythology was very trendy, but Taylor included in his book a quote from Nicolas Berdyaev, who pointed out that “myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept”.

But the best means of communicating the value of myth is myth itself. The primal vision is almost forgotten, but the demand for the works of the Inklings has grown over the last 30 years.

I’ve already mentioned the appearance of pagan themes in Lewis’s Narnian books, and have discussed the appearance of some of these themes in his Cosmic trilogy, and especially Out of the silent planet on another web page. The third novel in the trilogy, That hideous strength, comes closer to the writings of Charles Williams. It has been described as Lewis’s attempt to write a novel in the style of Williams. Like Williams’s novels, and unlike the other two in the trilogy, or the Narnian books, the setting is this world, rather than an imaginary one, or a setting on other planets.

hidstrenIn That hideous strength spiritual powers manifest themselves in this world – the ancient Greek and Roman deities, who are also the planetary rulers, show themselves in human society, and, in alliance with a revived Merlin of the Arthurian legends, confound the powers of evil. The Arthurian theme has echoes of Williams’s poetry in particular. It has echoes in the children’s novels of Peter Dickinson, who wrote of a revived Merlin whose awaking provoked an atavistic fear of modern technology among the inhabitants of Britain.

Alan Garner, whose children’s novels The weirdstone of Brisingamen and The moon of Gomrath were first published in the 1960s, wrote of a wizard, Cadellin Silverbrow, who is guarding a company of sleeping knights, who are threatened by the evil power of the Morrigan and Nastrond. The sleeping knights are to waken when Britain is in extreme peril.

The return of a half-forgotten power from a mythical past to battle an evil in the present is common to That hideous strength and the works of Garner. Lewis uses Graeco-Roman mythology in developing the characteristics of the planetary rulers, and also uses Romano-British mythology and folklore for the idea of a revived Merlin. Garner uses Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and modern folklore – the idea of the “old straight track”, for example, which he uses in The moon of Gomrath is a recent one.

Unlike Lewis, Garner’s books do not have many clearly-identifiable Christian elements. Yet for Christians, Garner’s books are as enjoyable as Tolkien’s. Neopagans have sometimes recommended Garner’s books as an introduction to a pagan worldview and pagan values for children. I believe that the attraction of these books could offer a key to understanding the common ground shared by Christians and neopagans, and also the differences between them.

One of the attractions for Christians is a struggle between good and evil powers, which is a central feature of the Christian worldview. In That hideous strength Lewis asserts Christian, liberal and democratic values against those of a fascist technocracy, and suggests that the latter are part of a satanic cosmic plot. This happens at several levels. For the modern worldview, nature and politics need to be demythologized (see Harvey Cox, The secular city). Lewis effectively remythologizes them. For the early Christians (and for most of their contemporaries) political and spiritual power were inseparable. The emperor cult, which Christians refused to participate in, bore witness to this. Lewis shows how this power operates in a modern setting.

In Garner’s books the struggles are for the possession of the symbols of power – the weirdstone of Brisingamen itself, for example. But there is the same struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

In Tolkien’s Lord of the rings the primary symbol of power is the One Ring carried by Frodo Baggins to Mount Doom, to be destroyed in the fire in which it was forged.

Where does that take us?

This article has been nearly ten years in the writing. I posted it on a web page, and have added to it from time to time, as new ideas have occurred to me, but the main point has been to pose questions rather than to give answers. In the blog format it is easy to respond by comments, and I hope that it may be the beginning of a conversation. The conversation need not be limited to a blog, and could take place in face to face discussions, or even in a reading group.

Here are some of the questions that occur to me. I hope that if this provokes any ideas, you may respond in comments, or even with other questions.

What values do you see in the writings of the Inklings? Which ones are common to Christians and neopagans? Which ones do you think are incompatible with one or the other?

For Christians: what kind of Christian theology of religions to you see behind the works of the Inklings? What are the similarities and differences between it and that of your community or tradition?

For neopagans: what do you think of the view of pagan deities in tho books of the Inklings? Do you find it hostile, friendly, condescending, cooptive?

[ Continued at Towards a theology of Religions ]

See the other Synchroblogs on the theme of Christianity and neopaganism:

This article is loosely based on an article I posted on my web pages about 10 years ago, and have been adding to since then. An older version may be found at Christianity, paganism and literature

It is also a continuation of a series of posts on Theology of religion, which bedan with the August synchroblog on Christianity, inclusive or exclusive. The instalment previous to this one can be found at Theology of religions and interreligious dialogue. The next instalment is at Towards a theology of religions.
See also an earlier post on Beats, Inklings, Christian literature and paganism.


The legislature of Mpumalanga Province in South Africa has recently published a draft bill for the suppression of witchcraft (and witch hunts).

Witch hunting has been a serious problem in South Africa in recent years, though Limpopo province has probably been more affected than Mpumalanga. Phillip Pare posted the text of the draft bill in the Christianity and Society discussion forum, and I thought it might be worth posting it here too. While witch hunting has been a serious problem, I’m not sure that this is the right way of dealing with it. It is already an offence, under national legislation, to accuse someone of being a witch, and to assault anyone or damage their property, whether one has accused them of being a witch or not. The main difference this will make, if passed in the present form, would be to try to regulate traditional healers in the same way as practitioners of Western medicine are regulated. Traditional premodern society meets bureaucracy.

I have a theory that the prevalence of witchhunting is partly the encounter between premodernity and modernity in any case. The proposed bill seems to be “hair of the dog that bit you.”

Sorry if the formatting looks weird. I tried to get it right, but I’m not sure if I succeeded.


To provide for the suppression of witchcraft in the province, to set the code of Conduct for Traditional Healers, to provide for the responsibilities of Traditional leaders and to provide for matters incidental thereto.


WHEREAS Chapter 2 of the Constitution recognizes Human rights for all.,

WHEREAS the Traditional Customs must be transformed to be in line with Constitution.

WHEREAS the Traditional Leaders must promote goodwell, Democratic Governance within their Communities.

AND WHEREAS traditional leaders must strive to enhance tradition and culture in a way that is consistent with applicable laws of the Republic of South Africa.

BE IT THEREFORE ENACTED by the Provincial Legislature of the Province of Mpumalanga, as follows:



“Constitution” means the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

“Igedla” means a person who knows and uses muti either to cure, protect from evil spirits, etc or to cause damage, suffering, harm etc. without ukuthwasa and does not foretell the future as an inyanga

“Inkosi” means a traditional leader-

(a) underwhose authority , or within whose area of jurisdiction Traditional leaders exercise authority in accordance with Customary law, and

(b) recognized as such in terms of the Traditional leadership and Governance Framework Act 2003 (Act.No. 41 of 2003).

“Inyanga” means a person who uses muti to cause harm, damage, suffering, bad luck, cure diseases, protect from evil spirits and uses mixtures shells, coins, bones,etc. to foretell the future of people, identify witches, perform spells for good and or evil purposes.

Kuthwasa” means a special training undergone by Inyanga which teaches the inyanga about muti, ukuphengula (foretelling) and sometimes to train other new inyanga. This training can be done through disappearance under water (river/sea) for a long time or by attending the residence of the Inyanga that trains other inyangas.

“Muti” means any mixture of herbs, water, wollen cufs etc, used by wizards, igedla, inyanga, African Churches, Foreign traditional Healers, etc for the purposes of curing deseases, helping others who come to consult to them for whatever purposes and including causing harm to others or their properties.

“Province” means the Province of Mpumalanga.

“Spells” means a form of words used as magical charm or incantation used by Wizards.

“Traditional leader” means any person who, in terms of customary law of the traditional community concerned, holds a traditional leadership position, and is recognized in terms of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, 2003.

“Umhlahlo” means a gathering of families or persons with the approval of the Traditional Leader or King at the place of an Inyanga with the purpose of identifying another as witch by the Inyanga, irrespective of whether the gathering is voluntary or involuntary “Umkhaya” has a corresponding meaning.

“Witchcraft” means the secret use of muti, , spells, spirits, magic powders, water, mixtures, etc, by any person with the purpose of causing harm, damage, sickness to others or their property.

“Wizard”means any person who secretly solicit or uses muti, , spells, spirits, magic powders, water, mixtures, baboons, etc. for the purposes of causing harm, damage or suffering to another.



2(1) No person shall point, imply or direct that any body practices witchcraft or has been bewitched by anybody.

(2) The King or Traditional Leader shall promote good neighbourhood amongst his or her subjects,

(3) The King or Traditional Leader shall in promoting good neighborhood amongst subjects, advice:

(a) any person who is of the opinion that his or rights are being violated to:

(i) report the matter to the King or Traditional leader of the offence by the other person,

(ii) Call upon all parties involved to give evidence of the nature of the allegations by the other party and the plaintiff to defend her/himself in a form of a trial,

(iii) be available on the request by the King or Traditional Leader when trying the case.

(b) If for any other reason the aggrieved party is not satisfied by the ruling of the king or Traditional Leader, he or she may:

(i) open a case with the SAPS on the alleged violation of his or her rights, or

(ii seek recourse from a Court of law of the Republic of south Africa under whose jurisdiction he or she falls.



3 It shall be the responsibility of any traditional leader to:

(1) Issue permits of practice to traditional healers who are registered with the Traditional Healers Association.

(2) keep a register of all practicing traditional Healers under his jurisdiction.

(3) Prohibit, in consultation with the Association,’ any person from practicing, who is found to be breaking the code of conduct of traditional healers or any laws applicable to the Republic of South Africa.

(4) Discourage any members of the community from obtaining permission to conduct umhlahlo.

(5) Prohibit the holding of Umhlahlo within his area of jurisdiction.

(6) Prohibit and not entertain any group of people alleging witchcraft and who request the chasing away of any person or family from the community who is alleged to be practicing witchcraft.

(7) Report to authorities, any person known to be breaking the provisions of this Bill.



4 Any person who is currently practicing or wishes to practice as a traditional healer shall:-

(1) Register with the Traditional Healers Association within his area of operation;

(2) Ensure that his or her name is kept in the register of the Traditional leader for people practicing as Traditional healers in his area of jurisdiction; and

(3) On the registration form must indicate at least tree areas of specialty of his or her practice.



5 Traditional Healers shall in abiding by the Code of Conduct:

(1) Promote the harmonious living environment for their clients.

(2) Co-operate in the open and in a manner that indicates professionalism through:-

(a) abiding by the rules and regulations of the Association;

(b) keeping a register or inventory of all medicines or muti he/she uses;

(c) clearly marking the muti and it’s purpose;(d) permitting unscheduled and scheduled searches by authorities through the Association to inspect and verify the muti so kept and any other related matters’;

(e) signing a code of conduct with the Association not to use any prohibited substances and or any human tissue as defined in the Human Tissues Act;

(f) prescribing muti for curing purposes and not for killing purposes, causing damage or harm to another nor help any person with regard to the killing, causing damage or harm others;

(g) reporting anyone soliciting human tissues or selling them; and

(h) co-operate with Police on any investigation.

(3) If the traditional healer is also an Inyanga, he or she shall not:-

(a) Point any person as a witch;

(b) Involve himself or herself in or prophesy any need for ritual killing;

(c) Provide help to anyone bringing or soliciting the use of human tissue for muti purposes; and

(d) Perform umhlahlo with the purpose of identifying any person as a witch or wizard



6 Any person who conducts himself in the manner below shall be guilty of an offence:-

1 (a) Imputes to any other person the causing, by supernatural means, of any disease in or injury or damage to any person or thing, or who names or indicates any other person as a wizard;

(b) In circumstances indicating that he professes or pretends to use any supernatural power, witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or disappointment of any person or thing to any other person;

(c) Employs or solicits any witchdoctor, witch-finder or any other person to name or indicate any person as a wizard;

(d) Professes a knowledge of witchcraft, or the use of charms, advises any person how to bewitch, injure or damage any person or thing, or supplies any person with any pretended means of witchcraft;

(e) On the advice of any inyanga, witch-finder or other person or on the ground of any pretended knowledge of witchcraft, uses or causes to be put into operational any means or process which, in accordance with such advice or his own belief, is calculated to injure or damage any person or thing; and

(f) For gain pretends to exercise or use any supernatural powers, witchcraft, sorcery or enchantment.


9 (1) This Act is called The Mpumalanga Witchcraft suppression Act and comes into operation on a date fixed by the Premier by proclamation in the Provincial Gazette

Harry Potter fans might be riled by the definition of “wizard”. I think Kim Paffenroth and others might be interested in the reference to zombies (though zombies are not defined).

The Bill also refers to African Churches, and since the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa is the original African Church, having been established by St Mark the Evangelist in AD 42, I wonder if the oil used in Holy Unction counts as “muti”, and would have to be registered in terms of the Act if it becomes law in its present form?

Traditional healers, Western medicine and HIV/Aids

About 8 months ago I attended a conference on HIV/Aids (see Notes from underground: HIV, Aids etc). It was organised by the South African HIV Clinicians Society for religious leaders, and there were people from various religious backgrounds there — Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, neopagan, paleopagan (the last also represented by a bloke who was trained in both traditional and Western medicine).

One of the problems mentioned by the speakers at the conference was that people with HIV/Aids sometimes consult religious healers who tell them that they have been cured. They do feel better, so they stop taking antiretroviral drugs, and then they begin to feel worse again. The speakers emphasised the point that doing this diminishes the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs, not only for that patient, but for others as well, as the HI virus builds up resistance to the drugs.

But now other things amanzi: madness has posted on another aspect of the relationship between HIV and religious healers that was not mentioned at the conference — the belief, propagated by some sangomas (witchdoctors) that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure Aids, and notes that there seems to be a conspiracy of silence about this belief.

Witchdoctor – a cultural stereotype?

A recent issue of The pagan activist has some interesting articles on Western neopaganism in Africa, and some contrasts with African paleopaganism. I do take issue with the articles on one point in particular — the use and misuse of the term “witchdoctor”. I suppose my time in the Editorial Department of the University of South Africa has made me a bit of a pedant about such matters.

I think the term originally was a clear and reasonably precise description of a specialist, found in many different African societies, whose job, or part of it, was to protect against malign witchcraft. In different African societies these specialists were given different names in local languages, but the English term was clear, and covered them all. In Zulu such a specialist is called an isangoma, and that term has been universalised in the form of “sangoma” to apply to other societies too. Another way of translating “sangoma” into English (though it is well on its way to becoming an English word in its own right) is “diviner”. The diviner is not only a witchdoctor, but rather determines the cause of evils and misfortunes, such as disease, quarrels, accidents, crop failures and the like. The cause, as determined by the diviner, may be witchcraft, but it may also be that the ancestral shades (amadlozi in Zulu) are annoyed because they have been neglected. Witchcraft is not the only possible explanation for misfortune.

If witchcraft is determined as the cause, then the sangoma may put on his (or her) witchdoctor hat, and prescribe treatment. This may include the use of umuthi (Anglicised as “muti”), in which case the sangoma is functioning as a herbalist or medicine man (inyanga in Zulu).

A witchdoctor, therefore, is one who protects against the harmful activities of witches. One of the articles in The Pagan Activist, however, implies that “witchdoctors” are the ones who perform harmful activities uxsually attributed to witches, which implies that witchdoctors actually cause harm, rather than preventing it.

I suggest that there are two possible sources for this misunderstanding.

  1. Hollywood movies, especially those of the mid-20th century, which portrayed “witchdoctors” as a force of evil, tyrants in African societies, and especially likely to turn a tribe against white visitors. Some of this may be based on historical incidents. When the Voortrekker leader Piet Retief visited the Zulu king Dingane in 1838 to negotiate a treaty, the king ordered his soldiers to “kill the witches” (bulala abathakathi). It is possible that a diviner told him that Retief and his companions were witches; it is also possible that he reached that conclusion on his own.
  2. A witchdoctor who “changes sides” and practices as a witch. A parallel can be found in Western medicine with a medical doctor who misuses his knowledge to poison and kill patients. Such cases are not unknown. Also, a corrupt police officer might moonlight as a member of a criminal gang. This does not, however, mean that “doctor” means “poisoner” or that “policeman” means thief”; so it also does not mean that “witchdoctor” means “witch”. And sometimes sangomas may use their specialist knowledge in activities that are beneficvial to some, but harmful to others. In a recent case a four-year-old child was murdered on the advice of a sangoma, and parts of the child’s body built into the wall of a hairdressing saloon, as muti to make the client’s business prosper. Ritual murder, however, is not witchcraft.

I won’t go into the different meaning applied to the word “witch” by many neopagans. That is another discussion, and one that I have dealt with in an article on Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery.

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