Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas According to Barbara Walker's "A Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets"

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone!  Woo woo!  The image below depicts a sacred tree of Attis -- a pine tree, from which "decorations" are hanging.  Not sure, but I think the bull in this 4th century image is meant to be a substitute for the blood sacrifice of Attis.  The use of evergreens during this time of year has come down to us from ancient pagan practices. But then, you knew that :)

It's so damn dark and dreary out there, I can't stand it.  But I look forward to this otherwise generally dark, dank, cold, snowy (or icy, had freezing rain starting Thursday night and I couldn't even go out on my front porch Friday morning without bear claws on my shoes and tossing salt out before me) time of year precisely because I know after Winter Solstice, the days begin to get longer by a few minutes each day.  Woo woo!

Unfortunately we're under that massive storm system and somewhere between 5 to 9 inches of snow is expected between 6 p.m. tonight and 6 p.m. tomorrow night.  Sigh.  I can't shovel like I used to; indeed, I'm not supposed to do it at all according to my former Heart Doctor #2 (I fired him last month).  I do it anyway, just not as much :)

I was surprised that Walker's encyclopedia didn't have an entry for the winter solstice.  But it does have an entry on Christmas and within it is information on the winter solstice.  As always, absolutely fascinating, so here we go:


For its first three centuries, the Christian church knew no birthday for its savior.  During the 4th century there was much argument about adoption of a date.  Some favored the popular date of the Koreion, when the divine Virgin gave birth to the new Aeon in Alexandria.(1)  Now called Twelfth Night or Epiphany, this date is still the official nativity in Armenian churches, and celebrated with more pomp than Christmas by the Greek Orthodox.(2)

Roman churchmen tended to favor the mithraic winter-solstice festival called Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.(3)  Blended with the Greek sun festival of the Helia by the emperor Aurelian, this December 25th nativity also honored such gods as Attis, Dionysus, Osiris, Syrian Baal, and other versions of the solar Righteousness, and Savior.(4)  Most pagan Mysteries celebrated the birth of the Divine Child at the winter solstice.  Norsemen celebrated the birthday of their Lord, Frey, at the nadir of the sun in the darkest days of winter, known to them as Yule.  The night of birth, Christmas Eve, was called Modranect, Latin matrum noctern, the Night of the Mother --  originally a greater festival than Christmas Day.(5)

Early in the 4th century the Roman church adopted December 25 because the people were used to calling it a god's birthday.  But eastern churches refused to honor it until 375 A.D.(6)  The fiction that some record existed in the land of Jesus's alleged birth certainly could not be upheld, for the church of Jerusalem continued to ignore the official date until the 7th century.(7)

Trappings such as Yule logs, gifts, lights, mistletoe, holly, carols, feasts, and processions were altogether pagan.  They were drawn from worship of the Goddess as mother of the Divine Child.  Christmas trees evolved from the pinea silva, pine groves attached to temples of the Great Mother.  On the night before a holy day, Roman priests called dendrophori or "tree-bearers" cut one of the sacred pines, decorated it, and carried it into the temple to receive the effigy of Attis.(8) [Attis castrated himself and died beneath the boughs of a pine tree. Some artistic renditions of his death show him tied to a tree or a stake -- crucified.]  Figures and fetishes attached to such trees in later centuries seem to have represented a whole pantheon of pagan deities on the World Tree.

Attis' sacred tree.  (Henderson & Oakes). Source.

Christmas celebrations remained so obviously pagan over the years that many churchmen bitterly denounced their "carnal pomp and jollity."  Polydor Virgil said: "Dancing, masques, mummeries, stage-plays, and other such Christmas disorders now in use with Christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalian and Bacchanalian festivals; which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them."(9)  Puritans in 17th-century Massachusetts tried to ban Christmas altogether becausse of its overt heathenism.(10)  Inevitably, the attempt failed.

A curious mistake in the Christmas mystery play of the Towneley cycle shows a Great Mother image not fully assimilated to that of Mary.  Before their attention was arrested by the annunciatory angel, idly chatting shepherds complained of their cruel overlords, and prayed "Our Lady" to curse them.(11)  Considering that they were not acquainted with the Mother of Christ, a rather different "Lady" must have been intended.

Among many other superstitions connected with Christmas were some that were typical of pagan holy days, such as the belief that animls could speak human words at midnight on Christmas Eve, or that divinatory voices could be heard at crosroads at the same time.(12)  Also at midnight on Christmas Eve, ater in wells and springs was supposed to turn into blood, or its sacramental equivalent, wine.  The miracle was not to be verified, however, for all who witnessed it would die within the year.(13) [One does not mess with the sacred rivers, wells and springs of the Goddess!]


(1)  Campbell, M.I., 34.
(2)  Miles, 22.
(3)  Reinach, 282.
(4)  H. Smith, 130; Hyde, 92; Miles, 23.
(5)  Turville-Petre, 227.
(6)  Frazer, G.B., 416.
(7)  Miles, 22.
(8)  Vermaeren, 115.
(9)  Hazlitt, 118-19.
(10)  de Lys, 372.
(11)  Miles, 135.
(12)  Summers, V., 157.
(13)  Miles, 234.

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