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'Pagan' imagery in carols

Phil Edwards 23 Dec 12 - 07:32 PM
GUEST,Blandiver 24 Dec 12 - 05:55 AM
WindhoverWeaver 24 Dec 12 - 07:12 AM
Les in Chorlton 24 Dec 12 - 08:50 AM
WindhoverWeaver 24 Dec 12 - 09:34 AM
Les in Chorlton 24 Dec 12 - 09:44 AM
GUEST,DDT 24 Dec 12 - 09:55 AM
Les in Chorlton 24 Dec 12 - 10:04 AM
Phil Edwards 24 Dec 12 - 10:29 AM
GUEST,Blandiver 24 Dec 12 - 10:30 AM
Les in Chorlton 24 Dec 12 - 10:39 AM
Haruo 24 Dec 12 - 10:42 AM
Les in Chorlton 24 Dec 12 - 10:57 AM
GUEST,Woodsie 24 Dec 12 - 11:10 AM
Les in Chorlton 24 Dec 12 - 12:17 PM
GUEST,Blandiver 24 Dec 12 - 12:22 PM
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Subject: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 23 Dec 12 - 07:32 PM

Some sceptical thoughts about 'pagan' interpretations of old carols here:

O and A and A and O


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 05:55 AM

Even Ronald Hutton opined that as long as there have been human beings, there will have been a marking of the Winter Solstice by way of feast, celebration and ritual. That's continuity enough for most of us, but in the Folk Era there has always been a far darker dreaming afoot which, no doubt much affrighted by the state of The Modern World, seeks comfort in a Folk Past replete with Symbolism, Archetypes, Allegory. All these are seen to hint at a Primal Lore that whilst being largely Lost or Forgotton is nevertheless embodied in Custom, Rite, Seasonal Usage, Ballad and Folk Song - up to (and including) certain carols.

Whenever I've been involved with The Boars Head, it's been as a Medieval piece. My favourite was always The Boar's head First (Porkington (!) Mss #10, ab. 1460-70). I don't think I've ever met anyone in Medieval Circles who claimed it was pagan though, save in the Huttonesque sense that the Solstice has always been a good excuse for an All You Can Eat Buffet. The impulse endures: my wife reported on her way to work this morning at half-eight that the ASDA roundabout was already pretty choked up... Hey, hey hey! But as one who spends too much of his free time immersed in medieval imagery in wood and stone and vellum, I can say that to be able to sing these words from 1460 is a veritable salve to my antiquarian soul.   

The images of The Holly and the Ivy act as poetic signifiers which take on very different meanings in Modern Times. They spark in the brains of (certain) Folkies and (most) Pagans and other right thinking souls who are rightly aghast at the state of our once glorious green & pleasant countryside. Modern Paganism is unfortunate in that it is made up of Intuitive Souls who nevertheless crave Prescriptive Absolutes. That they get this fix through the conceit of Folklore (a product of Victorian Imperialist Paternalism justly anathema to most free-thinking Pagans) is ironic to say the least. Even today I know many good Folky Pagans (certainly in Weirdlore circles & the old Woven Wheat Whispers / John Barleycorn Reborn* scene) who take The Golden Bough very seriously indeed; who still assume there is a 'lost' meaning underlying 'folklore' which is darkly esoteric and quite possibly hold the key to our ultimate salvation. Hell, even Kipling was enchanted by such notions and gave Modern Paganism some of its finest songs; Robert Graves likewise.

This impulse is, I think, essentially positive. In reality Pagan Imagery is intuited by those for whom there is a continuity, Huttonesque and otherwise. Humanity is continuous, there's no doubting that, and whilst things change, the reasons for doing them stay much the same. Anyone who is moved to sing a ballad or a traditional song engages in an act of essential communion with the same impulse that draws Pagans to Stone Circles and Green Men. No one knows for sure what purpose Green Men and Stone Circles served, yet both act as a fertile catalysts for much creative speculation which is the essence of modern Paganism.

Way back in my own Pagan Daze, I rewrote The Holly and the Ivy to reflect something of its 'inner-Pagan soul' - and emphasised this by setting it to the melody of Searching for Lambs (the mid-winter associations of which are deeply personal: I first heard it on Times and Traditions for Dulcimer which my brother gave for Xmas 1976!). I still dig it out most years and last year my wife added a vocal harmony & guitar part which we now use as the basis of a festive improv which invariable forms part of our sets at this time of year, by way of a pondering, or a meditation on the enduring appeal of such Pagan Imagery...

http://soundcloud.com/winterflora/the-holly-bears-the-crown-lnyd

* Volume Four coming soon!


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: WindhoverWeaver
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 07:12 AM

I am, as a Christian, always somewhat amused by the idea that Christians "stole" Christmas. To do that, paganism would have to be a "thing" rather than a collective noun for anything "not us" (like the Jewish "gentile"). Paganism represents whole streams of, at times quite antithetical, traditions, and they freely "stole" from one another (or, at least, were moved by the same impulses to re-invent similar traditions). Thus, Christianity no more stole Christmas than the druids stole their solstice celebration from earlier religions.

No, Jesus was not born on December 25th, but then the queen wasn't born on her official birthday either. The early church wanted a day to celebrate his coming, and people--well people in northern, temperate zones anyway-- seem to need a mid-winter feast to keep themselves going(as blandiver states above), so it just made sense.

As for the symbolism, again all religions borrow what they find useful from their past and bring it with them, and why not?


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 08:50 AM

Sean, as ever thoughtful and more than a bit informed.

Ms/Mr Weaver:

Paganism represents whole streams of, at times quite antithetical, traditions, and they freely "stole" from one another (or, at least, were moved by the same impulses to re-invent similar traditions).

Chritianity represents whole streams of, at times quite antithetical, traditions, and they freely "stole" from one another (or, at least, were moved by the same impulses to re-invent similar traditions).

Best wishes

L in C#


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: WindhoverWeaver
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 09:34 AM

Les,

First it is Mr.

Secondly, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Merely makes the question "did Christianity steal Christmas" into "did some form(s) of Christianity steal some form(s) of celebration/symbolism from some form(s) of paganism?" Pretty cumbersome and, I would argue, pretty pointless, especially as it just describes the whole lifecycle of traditions in general.


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 09:44 AM

Intrestin Mr Weaver,

not sure about "the whole lifecycle of traditions in general. " but people do seem sometimes to carry an bits of older tradition into anew one even when the new one is embraced by most and becomes the only real force.

But, also intrestin to see some of those 'catholic' ceromonies in South America which seem to drip with pre-columbian religous symbolism.

Besr wishes

Les


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: GUEST,DDT
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 09:55 AM

Next they'll be arguing that there is nothing pagan in the tradition of the Easter ham.


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 10:04 AM

Is that because

"there is nothing pagan in the tradition of the Easter ham. "?


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 10:29 AM

There's a tradition of an Easter ham?

Modern Paganism is unfortunate in that it is made up of Intuitive Souls who nevertheless crave Prescriptive Absolutes.

Wise words as ever (I'm tempted to quote at much greater length but won't). I'm very suspicious of the urge to connect with a deep dark past where the symbols were alive, although to some extent I feel it myself. Apart from anything else, if you switched on your live symbol detector and started digging through the past, you'd have hundreds of years of specifically Christian symbols pinging away at you before you ever reached anything pagan - and yet it's never Lammas or Epiphany that ignite the imagination of contemporary revivalists, always Samhain or Saturnalia. Perhaps they just don't like the look of the people they'd meet at the local church.

Anyway, here's wishing a good depths-of-winter firelight-food-and-fellowship festival to all.


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 10:30 AM

So much that is Christian derives from pre-Christian observance - like Easter: a moveable Lunar / Solar feast named after an Anglo-Saxon Hare Goddess and celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. And that's the most important day of the Christian Calendar. But then again some say Christianity is the most Pagan religion of them all; God knows it's certainly the most pompously sanctimonious and baffling to anyone even casually acquainted with the teachings of the man they claim as their messiah. Much of modern Paganism is experienced in terms of Christianity, which preserves much essential lore & mystery traditions (from Marian Matriachy to Gnostic Heresy) as well as key sights, sacred geometry, musical modality and alignments in the landscape. In fact Christianity is SO Pagan I find it supremely ironic that The Green Man is a uniquely Christian construct with no pagan precedent whatsoever.

Paganism is a living dream in the radical hearts of humanity; it is not of 'The Past' but is forever born of the moment. It is the hope that springs eternal that we might, at last, find peace with both ourselves and the planet on which we live. The interpretation of imagery as Pagan is an intuitive similation which has nothing to do with anything so mundane as fact. All this is what you might think of as Folklore; which lives in individual hearts very much as Reasons to be Cheerful - something we have in common yet is unique to each and every one of us.


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 10:39 AM

Thank you 'Blessed Sean' I love it when you 'talk' dirty

Les


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: Haruo
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 10:42 AM

I'm not at all sure that there's anything pagan in either the Boar's Head carols or the Easter Ham, but I'm not particularly inclined to see either as particularly Christian, either. The Holly and the Ivy is another story, as it is in part (not in the symbols but in the teaching) Christian catechesis.


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 10:57 AM

"The Holly and the Ivy is another story, as it is in part (not in the symbols but in the teaching) Christian catechesis. "

Tell us more


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: GUEST,Woodsie
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 11:10 AM

The Anglo-Saxon period of English history was about 550 and 1066 well after the Christian "Easter" had been agreed in 325 The old term was "Pace" The name came from earlier germanic tradition but the festival is rooted in Jewish "Passover" and not paganism


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 12:17 PM

Go on Woodsie, you tell 'em


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Subject: RE: 'Pagan' imagery in carols
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 24 Dec 12 - 12:22 PM

Easter is named after the Saxon Spring goddess Eostre; her companion was the hare, from which we get the Easter Bunny. Do you guys not have The Leaping Hare??? If not, treat yourself for Xmas - you've 13 days to snap one up...

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Leaping-Hare-George-Ewart-Evans/dp/0571106307


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